On April 16, the Tripura East Lok Sabha constituency made news after the Election Commission (EC) announced that polling here would be deferred and held on April 23 instead of April 18, saying the time would allow for improvement in law and order.
The decision was preceded by complaints by opposition parties, the CPM and the Congress, who accused workers of the ruling BJP of political violence, rigging and restraining of voters during polling for Tripura West on April 11. The EC also ordered the transfer of Additional DGP (Law and Order) Rajiv Singh. The CPM and Congress have said the EC’s decisions had vindicated their stand.
“The opposition knows they will lose miserably. We are ready whenever they want polls to be held. They are talking about rigging and violence, but in the run-up to polls, the four cases of violence that were registered were complaints by BJP workers that they were beaten up. They beat up our people and are now putting chicken heads on gates to scare people. When you know you will lose, you will try everything,” Ratan Lal Nath, senior minister in the BJP government in Tripura, told The Indian Express over the phone. Click here for more election news
By “chicken heads”, Nath was referring to reports of chicken heads and handwritten notes placed outside people’s homes in Khowai district with the note: “If you go to vote on April 18, you will face the same fate.”
The CPM has alleged that the threats went to CPM supporters. “The deferment of polls is indicative of where the law and order situation has reached. We want free and fair polls,” said Bijan Dhar, CPM state secretary.
Citizenship Bill issue shot in the arm for Cong
The Congress has got a shot in the arm with the opposition in the state against the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Newly appointed state Congress chief and royal scion Pradyot Manikya Debbarma has led the movement against the Bill and large sections of the tribal community joined in. A student leader explained that several students’ body and civil society organisations, especially those representing tribal interests, will support the Congress because they promised to scrap the Bill while the BJP has reiterated it will back it.
Tripura East is one of the two Lok Sabha constituencies in the state and covers 30 of its 60 Assembly constituencies. The tribal-dominated reserved constituency has 55,114,867 voters (as per 2014 data). Since 1996, the seat has been held by the CPM, which ruled Tripura from 1978 to 1988 and again from 1993 to 2018. In the 2018 state polls, the BJP came to power by winning 36 seats and its ally Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), which represents the tribal community, won eight seats. The CPM could manage 16 seats while the Congress drew a blank.
This election, Tripura East is set to see a multi-pronged contest. The BJP has fielded school teacher and youth leader Rebati Tripura (43). BJP ally IPFT has fielded its chief N C Debbarma (76) after seat-sharing talks between the two parties failed. The CPM has fielded sitting MP Jitendra Choudhury (60).
“The IPFT garnered support by saying they are committed to their demand for a separate state [Twipraland]. But they have not delivered on that. We have never supported the separate state issue. But we support the protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill,” CPM’s Dhar said, adding, “Both BJP and IPFT are opportunistic.”
The Congress candidate is Maharaj Kumari Pragya Debbarma (50), daughter of the Manikya dynasty’s last king Kirit Bikram Debbarma and sister of newly-appointed state Congress chief and royal scion Pradyot Manikya Debbarma. The Congress is looking to make a comeback and Pradyot taking over the reins is expected to consolidate the tribal support base. Also, the royal family has a history with the seat. Kirit Bikram had represented the seat thrice and his wife Bibhu Kumari Devi once.
“Development and the Citizenship Bill are the major issues for us. With Pradyot becoming state party chief, we have started regaining much of the support base, both tribal and non-tribal, that had drifted away from us. The IPFT has let people down, but the Maharaja will never let his people down,” said Tapas Dey, state Congress vice-president.
The IPFT denied that they have put the separate state movement on the backburner.