State elections in India have been increasingly seen from the prism of leadership. How important was the leadership factor in the Tripura elections? The Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) Post Poll Survey provides some indications of the role of the leadership factor.
When asked who would they prefer as the Chief Minister of the State after the elections (no prompts were offered), close to three of every ten respondents favoured the incumbent Chief Minister Manik Saha. Nearly two of every ten favoured Deb Barma, the leader of the Tipra Motha. Manik Sarkar, the former Chief Minister under the earlier Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) government, was mentioned by a little over one of every ten respondents (see Table 1). Two points merit attention here. Firstly, the incumbent Chief Minister was clearly the frontrunner and this was in consonance with his party being voted back to power. Secondly, the mention of Deb Barma assumes importance. Given the concentrated pockets of support his party enjoys, the support for him to be Chief Minister is more or less in the same proportion as the vote for his party. Also, in another article in this special coverage, there is reference to Tipra Motha supporters emphasising the role of leadership in their choice of party.
Since 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a key campaigner for the BJP in the State Assembly elections. Tripura was no exception. The Prime Minister spent two days campaigning in the State this time around. The Lokniti-CSDS Post Poll Survey indicates that four of every ten respondents in Tripura liked the Prime Minister a lot, and another one of every five liked him somewhat. Taken together, this accounts for close to two-thirds of the respondents, which is in fact higher than the vote share of the BJP-led alliance in the State. The popularity of the Prime Minister in the State is thus far above that of the party. If the fact that close to six of every ten respondents like BJP Chief Minister Manik Saha a lot or somewhat, the “double-engine” leadership appears to have paid dividends to the BJP-led alliance in Tripura (see Table 2).
The popularity of Tipra Motha leader, Deb Barma, also merits attention. Close to half the respondents liked him a lot or somewhat. Much of this support seems limited to the region that is his party’s stronghold. It is also useful to record that four of every ten respondents did not like him or had not heard of him at all.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader and former Chief Minister Manik Sarkar was liked by more than half the respondents. It is also interesting that the former BJP Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Das was not favoured by six of every ten respondents. Similarly, Rahul Gandhi did not find favour among six of the ten respondents. The intensity of polarisation of support for leaders is evident in Tripura. In the case of all the top leaders — Mr. Modi, Mr. Deb Barma, Mr. Saha and Mr. Sarkar, one-third of the respondents do not seem to express a positive opinion about them. Clearly, the Modi-Saha “double engine” leadership appears to have worked in favour of the BJP-led alliance
Sandeep Shastri is Vice Chancellor at Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal, and national coordinator of the Lokniti network