AS 59 Assembly constituencies, with 25,36,589 voters across the state’s 3,174 polling stations, cast their votes in the elections on Sunday, an uneasy calm descended on Tripura. Despite fears of possible violence, polling remained incident-free and peaceful. But it has been a tense run-up to the elections, with clashes between BJP and CPI(M) workers this past week, and the two main political opponents accusing each other of intimidating voters. Both voters and analysts say this is one of the toughest political fights they have seen in Tripura’s recent history, with BJP determined to wrest power from the last red bastion in the country.
The voter turnout was 78.5 per cent. Additional Chief Electoral Officer Tapas Ray said there were problems with EVMs and VVPATs in a number of polling booths. “We rectified this, but voting got delayed. We have allowed voting till 9 pm tonight,’’ he said, adding that there were no reports of violence from any part of the state.
While past elections have seen contests between the CPI(M) and Congress, this time, it is a battle of ideologies between the Left and Right.
Abdul Ahmed, 71, was the first voter at the Rajnagar polling booth, near the India-Bangladesh border. He arrived at 5.30 am, and waited for one-and-a-half hours to finally cast his vote. Like most constituencies, voters say that Rajnagar is also split down the middle, with the CPI(M)’s traditional vote bank staying true to the party and the Congress voters shifting to the BJP.
“Some of the Congress’s Muslim voters have shifted to the CPI(M). I have always voted for the CPI(M). We have seen what is happening across the country… This election is especially important to us. We just want to live in peace, as we have always done, with our Hindu neighbours… We don’t feel this is possible under the BJP,’’ he said.
Political analysts say that with the Congress decimated in Tripura, most of the 9 per cent Muslim voters in the state have turned to the CPI(M). While some have remained with the Congress, a handful have joined the BJP.
Rajnagar has a mixed population of Hindus, Muslims and tribals. While the older voters said they were voting for stability, the youth said they were voting for change — the Left has been in power for the last 25 years.
Niranjan Deb Nath said he has always voted for the CPI(M). “And that’s who I’ll vote for again. The border fence came up here five years ago. Crime has gone down. Earlier, there used to be a lot of smuggling across the border — of drugs, cough syrup, mobile phones. All that has come down. Now, the border is lit up so brightly that night has become like day,” says Deb Nath.
He said there were several clashes between CPI(M) and BJP workers over the past few days. “Some youths even had to go to hospital with minor injuries,” he said.
Pritam Das, 22, a first-time voter, said he was voting for change. “All my friends and others in my age group are voting for a change in the government. It’s not that the CPI(M) hasn’t done anything, but we want more. We want to move at the same pace as the rest of the country. It’s time,” he said. Like Das, most of the youth across the state seem to favour “parivartan’’ (change) and the BJP.
However, the dedicated CPI(M) voter seems to have remained loyal to the party. In Golaghati Assembly constituency, a reserved tribal seat, Sanjeet Debbarma, 38, a traditional CPI(M) voter, voted for the Left again. “We have always voted for the Left and we always will. There are so many inconsistencies in what the BJP has said at the Centre. They said they will give jobs — where are these jobs. Where is the Rs 15 lakh in my account that they promised,’’ he said.
Sunil Deodhar, BJP’s Tripura prabhari, said his party has worked hard to break the CPI(M)’s hold in these tribal areas — from including tribals in every Morcha, tying up with the IPFT, setting up a separate Tribal Morcha. “We will wipe out the CPI(M) in all 20 of these tribal seats,’’ he said.
In Takarjhala, IPFT chief N C Debbarma is seen to have a strong chance. Many of the polling booths here don’t even have CPI(M) polling agents. “We are all IPFT here. We feel that Bengalis in the state have received preferential treatment. We don’t have the kind of benefits that they do. We don’t have roads connecting all our villages, clean drinking water, electricity. We feel that a separate tribal state is a good idea,’’ said Vijay Debbarman, 38, who owns a grocery store in Jampuijala market in Takarjhala constituency.
The Left Front has demanded repoll in three booths in Takarjhala, alleging voter intimidation by the IPFT. It has also demanded “an explanation’’ from the Election Commission for the malfunctioning of EVMs in “519 polling booths’’ across the state.
Vikram Debbarma, a CPI(M) voter, said “the idea of a separate state doesn’t make sense”. “Besides, it will never happen. This is just a poll promise. The INPT is far more practical. They want more power for the autonomous district council, which makes sense to me,’’ he said.
INPT leaders, meanwhile, claimed to have “eaten into the IPFT vote base’’ by splitting the tribal vote. “Many voters will also not vote for IPFT because they have gone with a Hinduvadi party. Most of the tribals here are Hindus, but there are Christian tribals too,” said Jyotish Jamatia, INPT candidate from Bagma.
Meanwhile, Pradyot Debbarman, state working president of the Congress and erstwhile Maharaja Of Tripura, said the comparatively low voter turnout would work in favour of the CPI(M). “Seventy six per cent till the evening is low for Tripura. In the last Assembly elections, the turnout was 93 per cent. To me, this indicates that the CPI(M) voter came out and voted,” he said.