Trinamool Congress sets sights on Tripura to gain national footprint, Abhishek to visit Agartala on Monday

With a majority Bengali speaking population and about 8.60% minority population, northeastern State provides a demographic advantage to it

Updated - August 01, 2021 10:32 pm IST

Published - August 01, 2021 04:49 pm IST - Kolkata

Launching an attack: Mamata Banerjee criticised Tripura CM Manik Sarkar several times during her campaign.

Launching an attack: Mamata Banerjee criticised Tripura CM Manik Sarkar several times during her campaign.

During the high-pitched election campaign in the 2021 West Bengal Assembly polls, Trinamool Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee did not attack the Left parties particularly the CPI(M). However, the only leader whose name the West Bengal Chief Minister referred to again and again during her campaign was former Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar.

“Ask Manik Babu what the BJP has done in Tripura,” Ms. Banerjee would often refer in her speeches. Much to the advantage of the TMC, Mr. Sarkar campaigned in West Bengal largely stressing on the alleged excesses of police and administration on the economically weaker sections in Tripura after the BJP came to power in 2018.

Row over I-PAC representatives’ detention

After the sweeping victory in West Bengal, it came as no surprise that the Trinamool Congress has set its eyes on the Tripura Assembly elections which are scheduled to be held in 2023. The recent controversy over I-PAC representatives being booked by the BJP government in Tripura and not being allowed to leave the hotel has come as on opportunity to it.

Trinamool Congress general secretary and MP Abhishek Banerjee will on Monday be visiting Tripura. Mr. Banerjee’s visit makes it the third delegation of the TMC leadership visiting the northeastern State in less than seven days. Ministers Bratya Basu and Moloy Ghatak visited Tripura on July 28 followed by party MPs Derek O’Brien and Kakuli Ghosh Dastidar on July 29 even when Parliament was in session.

Mr. Banerjee on Monday will visit the Tripureshwari temple in Tripura and hold a press conference in Agartala.

During her recent Delhi visit, Ms. Banerjee raised the issue of alleged harassment of I-PAC functionaries describing them as “her boys”. “Extending my warm wishes to the people of Tripura on the auspicious occasion of Ker Pujo. I pray for the good health and well-being of all,” the Trinamool Congress chairperson tweeted on Saturday, giving a clear impression that the West Bengal’s ruling party has set clear sights on Tripura.

“It is no secret that Mamata Banerjee harbours national ambitions and for her party to gain a national status Tripura can be the best bet. Tripura provides a demographic advantage for the TMC which has a majority Bengali speaking population and about 8.60% minority population. As things stand, the TMC can certainly emerge as a factor in the next Assembly elections,” Biswanath Chakraborty, Professor of Political Science at the Rabindra Bharati University, said.

Prof. Chakraborty, who follows the TMC closely, said Tripura might have only two Lok Sabha seats but any gains there will bolster it in West Bengal and send a message in the country.

However, this is not the first time the TMC has aimed at expanding its footprint in northeast. In the 2012 Assembly polls in Manipur, the TMC had won seven seats but after elections the MLAs defected to the Congress and the BJP. In 2017 Assembly polls, it had won one seat in Manipur. It had also tried its luck in the local polls in Assam sending teams from West Bengal to protest against the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. In 2018, the TMC contested 24 of the 60 seats in Tripura but failed to win any seat.

‘Real threat for BJP’

Observers across political parties feel that the situation now may be different and the TMC may be “real threat for the BJP in Tripura”. In the past few days, several leaders including two prominent names in the Tripura politics — Subal Bhowmick, former vice president of Tripura BJP, and former Minister Prakash Chandra Das — have joined the TMC. Issues like Bengali identity and the factionalism within the State BJP may also help it.

“The BJP government is facing anti-incumbency in Tripura and the anti-Left voters may look for new options and the Trinamool Congress can certainly be one of them,” said Tripura based journalist and political commentator Rahul Sinha. Mr. Sinha said there are still 20 months before the State goes to polls and new equations are likely to emerge.

The Tripura BJP leadership has described the TMC’s attempts as a bid to get the status of a national party. Its MLA Ratan Chakraborty, who earlier headed the TMC in the State, said it had failed twice in the Assembly polls and is looking at 6% vote share to get the status of a national party.

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