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Tripura assembly elections 2018: A look at two ground soldiers and how they carried red, saffron flags

Just down the road from her home lives Sushmita Saha's counterpart from the ruling party. Sadhan Das, 28, a full-time CPI(M) worker, is looking after booth 5 with 16 “seniors” and four “juniors”. CPI(M) booth in-charges like him are simply called "paara committee", or "neighbourhood committee"

Written by Esha Roy | Agartala |
February 18, 2018 3:33:35 am
Tripura assembly elections 2018, Tripura polls, assembly elections Tripura, Tripura Vote, North East India News, Indian Express, Indian Express News Sushmita Saha and Sadhan Das

Until six months ago, Sushmita Saha, 34, was just another housewife in Dukli area of Surjamaninagar Assembly constituency in Tripura’s capital Agartala. Her husband Sudip runs a pharmacy store in Katahltuli market, not far from their home, and Saha looked after their eight-year-old daughter. She married young, just two years after graduation from Women’s College, Agartala. Her life changed in October last year. Saha was identified by the BJP as a “panna pramukh”.

Made in charge of looking after 60 voters on the constituency’s electoral roll – these party workers are given a printout of the rolls, therefore the word panna pramukh, or page in-charge – Saha looks at the needs of voters on page 15 and 16 in polling booth number 5, ward 44 of Surjamaninagar (Assembly constituency 18).

“Our family members were Congress voters, and I was never actively involved in politics. My sister-in-law recommended me to leaders in charge of the constituency, and then I became a panna pramukh. Although I knew most people here, I am now involved in their lives more intimately. I enjoy it,” she said.

Besides Saha, there are 14 other panna pramukhs who look after 916 voters in the booth. “I got my Panna Pramukh identity card two months ago but I have been working with families here for months. I can say confidently that there are 35 voters (out of 60) on my pages who will vote for BJP tomorrow. Of these, 21 had already made up their minds, so I did not meet them often. The 14 others, who were previously Congress supporters, were undecided – I concentrated on them.”

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She went to each person’s home a couple of times every week. “For a woman, the advantage is you have more access – I could go all the way into their kitchens and hold discussion with women of the family on why they should vote for BJP. I am confident I have turned these 14 voters to BJP,” she said. In her booth, eight of 15 panna pramukhs are women.

For months, Saha had a fixed routine. The mornings meant home, cooking, sending her daughter to school and seeing off her husband to work. In the evenings, she takes tuition, helping three children and her daughter with their homework. In the afternoons, Saha set off to meet the voters. “There are five voters on the list I am not sure about. They say they are voting for the BJP, but I am not convinced,” she said.

Saha said her job was not only to convince the families to vote but also to tend to any problem they may have. From water problems to bad roads to not receiving their pension – she would pass on issues to seniors in different morchas looking after the constituency to attend to them.

Just down the road from her home lives Saha’s counterpart from the ruling party. Sadhan Das, 28, a full-time CPI(M) worker, is looking after booth 5 with 16 “seniors” and four “juniors”. CPI(M) booth in-charges like him are simply called “paara committee”, or “neighbourhood committee”.

In fact, the BJP emulated the strong cadre system of the CPI(M) to build its own cadres, the panna pramukh being the ground soldiers. Das said the CPI(M) does not need any “special names”. “Our colony is voting for CPI(M) for years – I have been with the party since I first voted 10 years ago. I was with the SFI as well,” Das said.

“What BJP people say they are doing over last couple of months, we do every day of every year – even when there is no election around. That is the job for 21 of us in our colony. We meet families and discuss their needs and problems. If they face, say, water scarcity or have a broken road in front of their homes, we take it up with the councilor and ensure the job gets done…. As soon as these elections are over, we will get back to that work.”

It is only during elections that this work is suspended. That is when the young men and women of the colony are in charge of the nitty-gritty of poll campaign in the area. They build local booths that they keep open round the clock for complaints or information. When there are events, they are in charge of getting venues ready, stages built and sound systems hired. They put up flags and festoons, and carry out door-to-door campaigns. “It’s a big constituency, so it is not possible for the candidate to go to every home. We do it for him,” he said.

A “senior” at the booth, Das said, “There are four juniors who are periodically recruited. They are trained on how to deal with people, address their issues and even taught how to behave with and interact with residents. As soon as juniors graduate to seniors, four more are recruited, and so on. There is no age criterion but usually a young college student or a retired person who is ready to work for the party and the people is recruited.”

Das has kept his travel agency closed for the past week as the campaign peaked. “We are confident of victory. After voting tomorrow, we have planned a grand feast – party workers and (many) voters will attend it. Even our opponents are welcome if they want to come,” he said.

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