The fight for Tripura has been an unprecedented experiment in BJP’s electoral history, say the party’s leaders in Tripura. For a year now, the BJP has been engaged in the mammoth task of building a cadre-based organisation, brick by brick, to match the CPI(M) and Left Front’s cadre based-army. Over 50,000 BJP and RSS workers have been engaged, experts and trainers have been brought in from other parts of the country, and voters aggressively wooed across the length and breadth of the state.
“To win Tripura, and to be able to fight the communists,’’ says BJP’s Tripura prabhari Sunil Deodhar, who has been living in the state for two years now. A year ago, the BJP appointed its new state secretary, Biplab Deb, who is likely to be the party’s chief ministerial candidate in case of a win. “Since Biplab Deb took over, we have been building the organisation from scratch,’’ says Deodhar.
The BJP didn’t have to wait long to grab dissident Congress leaders who had joined the Trinamool Congress and were looking to jump ship once more. But the party had started working much before that.
“One of the first things we did was to build morchas — we have a yuva morcha (youth wing), mahila morcha (women’s wing) and morchas for SCs, STs, OBCs, minorities and farmers. These morchas were first set up at the level of mandals, then district, and then at state-level. We have managed to reach the grassroot workers and voters through them,” says Deodhar.
“These were set up in January last year and have become so strong now that as many as 10,000 women from three districts turned up for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in North Tripura recently, which is a huge number for such a small state,’’ he says.
After the morchas, the BJP appointed ‘vistaraks’ and ‘panna pramukhs’. The vistarak’s main job was to ensure that there was no infighting in the mandals and among local leaders. “We appointed 60 vistaraks for the 60 assembly constituencies. Unlike the morchas, they do not have to take take part in agitations, meet voters or be a part of the visible work. They have one job alone — to troubleshoot, quell fights between leaders and workers, make sure there is no dissidence and none of the internal trouble surfaces in the public arena. We brought in separate vistaraks for the tea gardens of Tripura — only 36 of the 46 tea gardens are operational. The tea gardens have a specific community of tribals from outside Tripura, so we brought in 36 vistaraks from Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand,’’ he says.
“The vistaraks are young men — all around 25-26 years of age. The idea was to take these young men and send them somewhere unfamiliar, have them handle crisis, and dedicate at least one year of their lives to working for the BJP in these areas. So, someone from Ghazipur would come and live in South Tripura for a year, or someone from South Tripura would be sent to live in North Tripura for a year,’’ says Deodhar.
The panna pramukhs are “page in-charge’’. Each polling booth has a voters’ list which is about 17-18 pages. Each page has a list of 60 voters. “A panna pramukh is someone who looks after the needs of all the 60 voters on his or her list,’’ he says, adding that these are the workers who are directly in touch with voters daily.
“It wasn’t very difficult to woo the Congress voter. For years, the Congress high command has neglected them. In the last elections, the central leaders didn’t even show up in the state. When we started keeping in touch with these families, they were surprised at the attention we were giving them,’’ says Deodhar.
He says the BJP worker has reached out to the CPI(M) voters and many disgruntled CPI(M) workers as well. “I guarantee a 25 per cent cross voting in this election,’’ he says.
Then came the ‘shakti kendra vistaraks’ — a vistarak in charge of every five booths in the state. “There are 3,400 booths in Tripura and 600 shakti kendra vistaraks, many of whom we have brought from Assam. Their job is to make sure that at the local level, the party runs like a well oiled machine. The ideal situation would be to have a shakti kendra vistarak for each and every booth in Tripura, but that is not possible yet,’’ says Deodhar.
While the BJP does not have a trade union of its own, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, affiliated to the RSS, was strengthened in the state and membership increased.
The BJP launched its ambitious online registration of voters. A phone number was advertised and the voter would simply have to give a missed call. The data was collated by the phone company and, from a call centre set up by the party, workers would call them back and register them. The registration grew to over 2 lakh by the time of the elections, claims Deodhar. Alongside the online registration, Deodhar says the ‘train samparak’ idea was launched.
“For one year, our train samparaks would travel on the daily train, for instance, they would board a train going to Dharmanagar at 6 am. They would wear Modi-T-shirts and hand out BJP pamphlets on the train. They would talk to passengers, take down their phone numbers, ask them their problems — from not having piped water to getting a gas cylinder — and pass it on to the mandals and party workers in Agartala.
“It is through the train samparaks that we managed to connect with 40,000 people in Tripura through WhatsApp. In some cases, we were able to help people through these samparaks. In one such case, a 22-year-old youth from Tripura, who was working as a driver in Saudi Arabia, was being tortured by his employer. We immediately tweeted this to Sushma Swaraj, and she had the boy reunited with his family within a week,’’ says Deodhar.
In order to train this army of workers, the BJP held ‘prashikshans’ or training camps. “Many of our workers had joined from the Congress. They had no idea about cadre-based politics. They had no ideology because the Congress has no ideology, so we gave them an ideology — of cultural nationalism, integrated humanism. We would teach them the history of the Jan Sangh. A three-day workshop was conducted at the state level, and we brought in RSS pracharaks and general secretaries (organisation) like V Satish, B L Santosh, Ram Lalji, Ajay Jamwalji and Muralidhar Rao to train them. The youth would live together, eat together. We taught them patriotic songs. The trained youth would then go to districts and train others, who would then go to mandals and train others and so on and so forth,’’ he says.
And then of course there is the social media team, with video editors, graphic designers, cartoonists, young people who speak English, Bengali and Kokborok — some from IIT, others from other premier institutes, who have given a year to work out of the party’s war room in Agartala.
Two weeks ago, another 400 vistaraks were brought in from Assam. “They are working specifically for the run-up to the elections. Looking at social media, helping candidates with their campaigning, giving any assistance that is required. It is not good enough for the BJP to simply make inroads in the state. We want to win at all cost,’’ says Deodhar.