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Crucial Tripura bypoll wins boost CM Manik Saha, BJP as Cong, TIPRA Motha create a buzz

The 69-year-old dental surgeon-turned-politician Saha, a Rajya Sabha member, had never contested any election in his career earlier. He had last month replaced Biplab Kumar Deb as the CM, who had led the party to victory in the 2018 Assembly polls to form its first-ever government in the state.

Chief Minister Dr. Manik Saha arrives at a polling booth in his constituency - Town Bardowali and stands in a queue waiting for his turn. (Express photo: Debraj Deb)

Six weeks after he took over as the Tripura chief minister, Manik Saha, the state BJP president, emerged victorious in his first-ever direct electoral battle from the Town Bardowali constituency, with the ruling party bagging three out of four Assembly seats in the current bypolls.

The 69-year-old dental surgeon-turned-politician Saha, a Rajya Sabha member, had never contested any election in his career earlier. He had last month replaced Biplab Kumar Deb as the CM, who had led the party to victory in the 2018 Assembly polls to form its first-ever government in the state.

In the bypolls, the BJP also won Jubarajnagar and Surma seats. However, it also got a jolt as the Congress wrested the prestigious Agartala constituency from the BJP with the saffron party’s former MLA Sudip Roy Barman again winning the seat after jumping ship and contesting on the Opposition party’s ticket. The CPI(M) lost its Jubarajnagar constituency to the BJP, while the Trinamool Congress (TMC) too drew a blank.

The bypolls marked a major test for the faction-ridden state BJP as well as CM Saha, with the latter recently saying that its outcome will set the stage for the state Assembly polls due in February 2023. Saha himself needed to win his seat to be able to retain the CM post even as he led the party in other seats too in order to validate the high command’s confidence reposed in him.

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The Congress, which did not have any seat in the current Assembly, made a comeback of sorts with party heavyweight Sudip Roy Barman, who had once served as the Opposition leader and state party chief before switching to the BJP, retaining his Agartala seat, although the saffron party dismissed its impact on the 2023 Assembly polls.

The BJP leadership’s move to replace Deb with Saha just 9 months before the Assembly polls had stunned the leaders and rank and file of its Tripura unit, since under the Deb dispensation the party had been winning all the polls including the gram panchayat, civic bodies and the Lok Sabha polls. It had then only lost

the tribal council polls to the erstwhile royal scion Pradyot Kishore-led TIPRA Motha, a party formed just ahead of these polls last year.

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The outcome of the bypolls is however set to help Saha consolidate his position as he gears up to lead the party into the 2023 electoral battle.

Expressing satisfaction over the bypoll results, the Tripura BJP’s chief spokesperson Subrata Chakraborty said the state government would now focus on fulfilling “pending 2018 poll promises”. “Time is less and few commitments we made in 2018, which could not be fulfilled yet, are being worked on. We shall fulfil them all in this timeframe and shall go to polls with report card next year,” he said.

Although the Congress clinched Agartala, it lost in other seats with its Town Bardowali candidate and three-time MLA Ashish Kumar Saha, who had joined the party after quitting the BJP early this year, losing to CM Saha. The Congress attributed these losses to “political violence and electoral malpractices”. Ashish alleged that the CM’s victory was made possible after the BJP “pushed thousands of outsiders into the constituency on the polling day and blocked genuine voters from casting their ballots”.

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Echoing such charges, Barman alleged, “The result is an outcome of false voting. The BJP has lost all morality. They tried to influence sector officials. The CM’s victory was made through false voting. He is power-greedy.” Violence had erupted in Agartala after the bypoll results were announced, with the state Congress headquarters witnessing clashes between the BJP and Congress workers, stone-pelting and police tear-gassing in which about 20 people, including state Congress president Birajit Sinha, was injured.

Playing down such incidents, the BJP said there were isolated incidents of violence for which the Opposition parties, the CPI(M) and the Congress, were allegedly responsible.

The CPI(M) suffered a major setback as its lost its Jubarajnagar seat to the BJP. The bypoll in this constituency was necessitated after its sitting CPI(M) MLA and ex-Assembly Speaker RC Debnath had passed away. A known Left bastion, Jubarajnagar was held by the CPI(M) for the last three decades, including in the 2018 Assembly polls when the party was routed after ruling the state for 25 years consecutively.

The BJP also bagged the Scheduled Castes-reserved Surma constituency. Significantly, a TIPRA Motha candidate Baburam Satnami emerged as the runner-up in Surma, which was the tribal party’s first-ever foray into the Assembly election.

The TMC’s candidates lost their deposits in all four seats.

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The CPI(M) blamed the bypoll debacle on the BJP’s alleged “muscle and money power” and “misuse of state administration”. “Judging from the condition going on for the last 51 months in Tripura, the by-election results in four assembly segments aren’t as per expectation. The BJP misused administration and used money, muscle power etc. Voters couldn’t cast a mandate in many areas due to threats, intimidation, and violence perpetrated by the BJP,” alleged a statement issued by CPI(M) office secretary Haripada Das.

The Tripura TMC said it would review the bypoll results, with state party chief Subal Bhowmik saying it did not reflect the general mood which, he claimed, would be in favour of the party in the next year’s elections.

First published on: 27-06-2022 at 04:00:37 pm
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