Against various odds the Congress party’s heavyweight candidate from the prestigious Agartala Assembly constituency, Sudip Roy Barman, managed to sail through and retain his seat, which he had won in the 2018 Assembly elections on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket. This was the only setback that the ruling BJP got in the current Tripura bypolls in four Assembly constituencies.
The 56-year-old, six-time MLA Barman, who started his political career with the Congress, returned to the grand old party in February 2022 via the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the BJP. He had switched from the Congress to the TMC in 2016 and from there to the BJP in 2017. After quitting the saffron party, he also resigned as an MLA from Agartala early this year, which necessitated the bypoll in the constituency.
The son of former Tripura chief minister Samir Ranjan Barman, Sudip studied in Doon School and later did a BE in Mechanical Engineering from the erstwhile Tripura Engineering College in 1989. Three years later, he completed his law degree from Tripura University. During his college days Barman was associated with the Congress’s students wing NSUI.
Barman made his debut in the Assembly elections in 1993 when he contested against the ex-CM and Left patriarch Nripen Chakraborty from Agartala seat. He lost with a margin of 2,600 votes, but that was the only poll defeat he has suffered so far as he went on winning all six Assembly polls in the same constituency, including the current bypoll, held since 1998. He rose in the Congress ranks to become the Tripura Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) president as well as the Opposition leader in the Assembly. When he left the Congress for the TMC in 2016, he was the Opposition leader.
Although he has always been a high-profile politician, Barman’s current campaign in the bypoll was a low-key affair as he appeared to play the underdog vis-a-vis the formidable BJP. Speaking to The Indian Express, he said, “It was all my strategy. BJP publicly stated I was on the back foot since I had no booth office. I deliberately didn’t put up any. I played it calm and low.”
Political observers say Barman’s move not to set up booth offices or hold many rallies and the absence of his campaign materials on the ground might have made the BJP complacent towards his challenge in this bypoll. There had also been a series of attacks on Barman over the last few months, including an assault made on him just three days before the polling. While the ruling party dismissed these assaults as “drama” or a result of the Congress party’s “factional feuds”, the poll results indicate that Sudip might have got the public sympathy as the visuals of the leader with bloodied face, swollen lips and eyes beamed out to them just ahead of the July 23 polling. The Congress has accused motorcycle-borne goons, called “Bike Bahini”, for allegedly perpetrating these attacks on Barman, charging that they are operated by the ruling party.
Never known for mincing his words, Barman, who was inducted into the BJP government as the health minister in 2018, used to castigate the then CM Biplab Kumar Deb, which led to his ouster from his ministry a year later.
Since then, Barman has sought to build up his image as a “bandhu” (friend) of people. He organised a series of events since, helping needy people and extending them financial and healthcare assistance in order to project this image in his constituency. After he joined the Congress, he carried on with his “bandhu” image-building exercise, which was even reflected by his campaign banners and speeches in this bypoll.
Soon after clinching his seat again, Sudip announced Sunday that he would soon call a meeting of all Opposition parties to discuss and “strategise” on how to combat “the BJP’s political hooliganism”.
Sounding cautious on the alliance issue, Barman does not rule out its possibility in the future. He has also claimed that his Agartala win would be a catalyst in
turning the public mood against the BJP in the coming Assembly elections.
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