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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Tripura by-elections: Semi-final for BJP, Opp; acid test for debutant Manik Saha

These by-elections are going to be crucial for the ruling BJP, especially its newly-appointed chief minister Manik Saha, as well as the Opposition parties including the CPI(M), Congress and Trinamool Congress (TMC).

Written by Debraj Deb | Agartala |
May 28, 2022 12:28:51 pm
Former MLA and CPIM leader Ratan Das (left) and Former MLA and Congress leader Ashish Kumar Saha (right)

Barely nine months before the Tripura Assembly elections, the battle lines have been drawn for its semi-final with the Election Commission (EC) declaring that the bypolls in Agartala, Town Bardowali, Surma and Jubarajnagar Assembly constituencies will be held on June 23.

These by-elections are going to be crucial for the ruling BJP, especially its newly-appointed chief minister Manik Saha, as well as the Opposition parties including the CPI(M), Congress and Trinamool Congress (TMC).

The by-election in Agartala seat was necessitated after ex-minister Sudip Roy Barman resigned from the BJP to join the Congress in January this year. In Dhalai district’s Surma seat, the incumbent BJP MLA Ashish Das had switched to the TMC in May last year and was disqualified from the Assembly. Das has now quit the TMC too.

The state’s chief electoral officer (CEO) Kiran Dinkarrao Gitte asserted Thursday that adequate security arrangements have been made to ensure free and fair by-elections. The Opposition parties, however, expressed their concerns in this regard at an all-party meeting held by Gitte in Agartala on Friday.

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Senior Congress leader Ashish Kumar Saha, who attended the all-party meeting, said his party has “zero confidence” that the administration would be able to ensure free and fair bypolls. “Our experience of elections in the state in the last four years has been horrific,” he alleged, charging that “massive electoral malpractices and violence” had marred various polls. “There were then no elections in true sense… We voiced our concerns and the CEO assured us that whatever happened earlier wouldn’t happen again. Let’s wait and watch,” he said.

CPI(M) leader Ratan Das, who attended the meeting on behalf of the Left parties, and TMC general secretary Tapas Kumar Roy also echoed similar charges.

BJP leader Badal Goswami, however, said the by-elections will be free and fair and that his party was prepared to contest them and secure the electors’ mandate.

The bypolls are set to be crucial for the saffron party in various ways. It will be the first major test for Saha, who replaced Biplab Kumar Deb as the CM a couple of weeks ago, when the BJP leadership decided to effect a change of guard in the state in a sudden, dramatic manner. A Rajya Sabha member, Saha is also expected to contest the upcoming bypolls, although his constituency has not been announced yet. The 69-year-old dental surgeon-turned-politician has never contested any election so far.

A victory in the bypolls would help the state BJP put its house in order ahead of the Assembly elections due in February next year. The BJP has been reeling under factional feuds and dissension, which aggravated following Deb’s removal as the CM. The party also seems to be grappling with the “anti-incumbency” factor, which has been attributed to the Deb dispensation. Dealing with discontent simmering in a party section would be a formidable task for Saha, especially due to the perception that he has been a Deb loyalist.

Given the turmoil roiling the ruling camp, the Opposition parties sense an opportunity for their prospects. They are going all out to fight the bypolls as it might prove to be a significant stepping stone to their bids for the final showdown in the form of the Assembly elections.

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