A triangular contest—between the BJP, the Left Front-Congress combine and new entrant Tipra Motha—is on the cards in a majority of the 60 Assembly seats in Tripura, which goes to the polls on February 16.
Of these 60 seats, 20 straddling a tribal council are reserved for the State’s 19 Scheduled Tribes, while 10 are reserved for the Scheduled Castes.
Unlike in past elections, there does not seem to be a “wave” of support for any party or alliance this time, making the 2023 mandate unpredictable for both the general voter and the poll pundit.
The BJP, seeking to retain power along with its current ally, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), is contesting 55 seats. The IPFT is contesting the remaining five seats, all in the tribal domain.
The Left Front headed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which struck a seat-sharing deal with the Congress to eject the BJP, is contesting 47 constituencies. The Congress was allotted 13 seats.
The entry of the Tipra Motha, riding a sweep in the tribal council elections in 2021, is expected to make it tough for both the BJP and the Left Front-Congress combine in the 20 seats reserved for STs, as well as at least five seats beyond the council area, which have a sizeable tribal population.
The Chalo Paltai (let’s change) credo had helped the BJP end 25 years of Left Front rule in 2018, but former Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb’s alleged overbearing style of functioning led to dissension within the BJP. A few BJP MLAs are quitting the party, including the heavyweight Sudip Roy Barman, who is now a Congress candidate. Three IPFT legislators also resigned to join other parties, including the Tipra Motha.
The BJP’s central leadership replaced Mr. Deb with dental surgeon Manik Saha in May 2022 in a bid to cleanse the party’s image. The Assembly election results are expected to reflect the impact of the latter’s damage control act.
Demanding Greater Tipraland
Alleged misrule and high-handedness by the BJP made the Left Front and Congress forget their bitter rivalry and join hands. The CPI(M) and Congress hope that their dedicated support base will keep the BJP from ruling Tripura for a second straight term.
But Tipra Motha appears to have upset the calculations of both the BJP and the Left Front-Congress combine. They both wooed the Tipra Motha, but the smaller party stuck to its decision to contest the elections on its own terms, seeking written support for its demand for a Greater Tipraland to be created within the constitutional parameters.
Although the Tipra Motha distanced itself from the other parties, Union Home Minister Amit Shah claimed that it has a tacit understanding with the Left Front-Congress. The Congress, on the other hand, claimed that the BJP and the TMC had struck an underhand deal because the latter hardly has any presence in the State, unlike in Meghalaya.
The BJP won 36 seats and ally IPFT eight seats in 2018. The Left Front managed to bag 16.