Having drawn a blank in the last several Lok Sabha elections, the Vidhan Sabha polls last year, which saw the BJP-led alliance unseat the five-term Left Front government, and getting drubbed in the subsequent civic body by-elections, the Congress claims to be bouncing back, making it likely a three-cornered fight for the state’s two Lok Sabha seats.
Tripura West Lok Sabha constituency goes to the polls on Thursday; Tripura East votes on April 18.
While most state Congress leaders and workers had deserted the party for the BJP before the Assembly polls in February last year, party leaders said a resurgence is under way.
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Stating that workers are returning regularly ever since the Assembly polls, state Congress vice-president Tapas Dey said, “The real boost came when Maharaj (new state Congress president and erstwhile Tripura king Pradyot Manikya Deb Barman) took charge. Between March and now, as many as 18,000 people have joined or rejoined the Congress.”
Dey asserted that the people have “quickly realised” that the BJP “cannot fulfill anyone’s aspirations” in the state, and that Pradyot is acting as a bridge between tribal people and the Bengali-speaking population.
After Pradyot took charge, state Health Minister and BJP leader Sudip Roy Burman’s father, veteran leader Samir Roy Burman, returned to the party, and speculation is rife on whether Sudip, who joined the BJP before Vidhan Sabha polls, is also likely to return.
Another recent recruit is Subal Bhowmik, former BJP state vice-president and now the Congress’s candidate from Tripura West seat.
According to local leaders, Pradyot is the first state Congress chief from tribal background in recent years, and tribal allegiance continues to rest with the erstwhile royal family. That, they maintained, is one reason his sister, Congress candidate from Tripura East Pragya Deb Barman, is likely to give stiff competition to the BJP.
Earlier this week, Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), a partner in the BJP-led coalition government in the state, suffered a setback after party vice-president Ananta Debbarma joined the Congress. He said the “natural transition” was due to Pradyot taking charge. “I brought 4,000 IPFT members (to the Congress). The BJP wants to bring in the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which is against the desire and aspiration of Tripura’s tribals,” he said.
Most of IPFT’s youth wing has also shifted to the Congress, Ananta claimed.
Many IPFT workers who have not left the regional party said they will back the Congress in these Lok Sabha polls. The party’s women’s wing’s general secretary Swapna Deb Barman said, “I have considered joining the Congress but am reluctant to leave the IPFT because it is a regional party. But my support is with the Maharani (Pragya Deb Barman). I think she will win.’’
State BJP leaders, however, pointed out that the IPFT is fielding candidates for both seats, which will help the ruling party. “The IPFT candidates will split tribal votes. Bengali-speaking voters are with us — they will not vote for the Congress — so we will win both seats,’’ BJP’s Tripura in-charge Sunil Deodhar said.