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BJP wins Tripura elections despite strong contest while Tipra Motha emerges as a major force, here is how anti-incumbency was defeated

Pradyot Kishore Manikya’s Tipra Motha party emerged as major disruptor in Tripura polls as it snatched tribal seats from CPIM and BJP’s ally ITFT, but could not stop BJP from winning

On Thursday (March 2), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) clinched the Tripura Vidhan Sabha elections with ease, despite facing strong opposition. Interestingly, Amit Shah made a similar prophecy about two weeks ago during an interview with the news agency ANI. The BJP-IPFT alliance was contesting against the Congress-CPI(M) alliance while facing a massive contest from the newly formed TIpra Moth in the tribal-dominated areas of the state.

The saffron party won 32 seats in an Assembly of 60 while its pre-poll alliance partner Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) managed to secure just 1 seat.

Screengrab of the Tripura election results, data via Election Commission of India

The main rival parties in the North-Eastern State, Congress and CPIM, joined hands in the hopes of overthrowing the incumbent BJP government but could win a grand total of 14 seats in the Tripura Vidhan Sabha elections. CPIM won 11 seats, while Congress won just 3.

Tripura Motha Party (also known as Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance), which has been demanding a separate State for indigenous people, was able to secure 13 seats in its maiden Vidhan Sabha election appearance, becoming the second largest party in the assembly. The party won more seats than CPIM and is all set to grab the position of leader of the opposition.

Putting a stop to the Communist rot in Tripura

Until 5 years ago, BJP did not have a real footing in Tripura. But the residents of the State were disillusioned with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) government (1993-2018).

Tripura government employees, mostly teachers, were forced to work for low salaries, with prolonged periods of no revision. They were stuck on the 4th Pay Commission scale (prevalent in the late 1980s) even in 2017. Needless to say, privatisation had taken a hit under the Left regime.

Most people were dependent on that one family member who had a government job. By 2018, people were desperately looking for a change. BJP saw an opportunity and under the banner of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it promised better wages to government employees.

The residents of Tripura, who were by then well aware of BJP’s development model, reposed their faith in the party. After being elected to power, the state government announced a hike in the pay scale for govt employees and pensioners at par with the 7th central pay commission.

After BJP managed to topple the CPIM government in 2018, the state government led by Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb brought changes and developmental works long waited for by the people of Tripura.

Starting in January 2020, the BJP governments at the State and the Centre helped resolve the long-standing Bru refugee crisis in Tripura. The Bru refugees from Manpur were given permanent shelter in the state, their names were included in the voter list, and they voted in these elections.

In February 2021, the BJP government announced a 3% hike in Dearness Allowance/ Dearness Relief for employees and pensioners. In May of that year, it launched an online portal for supporting businesses that were impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. 

Successful management of the Covid-19 pandemic, the inauguration of a new airport terminal and incentives to government employees were some of the other achievements of the government.

However, in the course of time, the CM started to lose popularity among the people for various issues, including several controversial comments that he made. Worried that it might affect the party, BJP replaced him a year before the election. Dr Manik Saha, a dental surgeon who was elected to the Rajya Sabha, was called in to fill in the role of Biplab Kumar Deb in May last year.

Within just two months in office, the newly appointed Tripura CM announced a hike of 5% in Dearness Allowance/ Dearness Relief for employees and pensioners.

In the month of December last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the first dental college in Tripura, a long-standing demand of the medical community.

Not to forget the continued emphasis on the development of national and state highways, and airports and boosting of internet and railway connectivity as part of PM Modi’s vision of the HIRA (Highways, Internet, Railways, Airport) model.

Days before the turn of the new year, the BJP government announced an additional hike of 12% in Dearness Allowance/ Dearness Relief for employees and pensioners. The unprecedented move received overwhelming support and further sealed the victory in the favour of the BJP.

The aftermath

The Opposition parties, namely the Congress and CPIM, were shoved into a corner after the BJP turned the tide against them. Out of desperation, they decided to contest the 2023 Tripura Vidhan Sabha polls together.

The two parties relied on arithmetical calculations in the hopes of overthrowing the BJP. As per data [pdf] on the ECI website, CPIM secured 42.2% vote share while Congress received 1.78% votes in the 2018 elections.

BJP steered ahead of both parties with a 43.59% vote share in the polls, held 5 years ago. Assuming that they could topple the BJP if they got together and somehow transfer the votes among themselves, the CPIM and the Congress forged a pre-poll alliance.

The result was imminent, a large number of CPIM workers defected to the BJP, not to forget how Congress defied the CPIM and ended up filing more nominations than what was decided initially.

However, instead of fixing the mess in their own house, they decided to hound psephologists for predicting BJP’s victory in the 2023 Vidhan Sabha polls in Tripura. Not to forget attempts at fake opinion polls and complete indifference to Tripura by top guns in the Congress party.

As predicted by most exit polls, BJP won the elections with an absolute majority and a vote share of 38.97%. The 5% loss in its vote share from the last election can largely be attributed to the defection of top BJP leaders Sudip Deb Barman and Ashish Kumar Shah to the Congress party.

The Congress benefitted in two ways – the defection of the two BJP leaders to the grand old party and the transfer of CPIM votes in key constituencies. As such, it was able to increase its vote share from 1.79% in 2018 to 8.56% in 2023.

Screengrab of the party-wise vote share in the 2023 Tripura elections

However, the biggest loser turned out to be the Communist Party of India (Marxist) party, the vote share of which declined from 42.3% in 2018 to 24.6% now, post the alliance with Congres. It further went down to 11 seats from 16, partly due to the transfer of indigenous (tribal) votes to the Tipra Mohta Party.

However, BJP’s alliance partner ITFT also suffered a massive loss. While it had won 8 seats (7.38% vote share) in 2018, it was decimated to 1 seat (1.26% vote share) in the 2023 polls. It was again due to the transfer of tribal votes to the Tipra Mohta Party. It is notable that ITFT had its base among the tribal-dominated areas of the state, where Tipra Motha emerged as a major force. BJP kept its vote share almost intact among the majority Bengali voters.

With a clear majority of the saffron party, Tripura is set to have a stable government for the next 5 years. Given that Tipra Mohta’s hopes of being the kingmaker have been dashed, the fantasy of ‘Tipraland’, a separate State to be carved based on ethnic lines, will also not see the light of day.

The Tripura royal, Pradyot Kishore Manikya, had been able to unify several tribal factions under one banner by selling them the dream of a separate State called Tipraland, and was able to snatch tribal votes from ITFT and CPIM. However, for now, the demand for a separate state will have to be put on the back burner. It is notable that Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma, who played a major role in the victory of BJP in the state, has said that the demand for a separate Tipraland state because it will open a pandora’s box as there are several such demands in the region.

Tipra Motha was able to win the votes of tribals due to the fact that some tribal populations in the state allege that they are reduced to a minority in the state. Tribals in the state keep demanding a new state for them from time to time, as they claim that they have become minorities due to the influx of Bengalis from East Pakistan during the partition and during the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971.

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Dibakar Dutta
Dibakar Dutta
Centre-Right. Political analyst. Assistant Editor @Opindia. Reach me at [email protected]

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