With elections just a week away, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is putting all efforts to win Tripura, while the CPM is doing all it can to keep the state. Himanta Biswa Sarma, BJP’s man in-charge for bringing the trophy home from Tripura, and Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar have busy schedules leading up to the elections.
Meetings extending till midnight and continuous reports keep flowing in from different districts. Sarma has been at the forefront of elections in Assam and Manipur last year and this year his first test is in Tripura where the BJP is battling its first ever direct confrontation with a Left party. The stakes are high because the results in Tripura will set the tune for the BJP in states like Bengal and Kerala which have a strong Left influence.
In the 2014 general elections, the CPM polled close to 12 lakh votes in Tripura while BJP got less than 2 lakh. When The Sunday Guardian asked Sarma what has changed for the BJP this time, he said, “Back in the late 1990s when BJP had started to gain some ground in Tripura, things did not work out the way it was expected. During that time, the BJP was not the principal Opposition party, but today, BJP has committees and organisations that have developed a vast network. The BJP is here to stay this time. There are speculations that the BJP will fragment later, but I can assure you that we have gained strength.”
Though BJP has entered into an alliance with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) to take on the Left, the fight might not be that easy. The IPFT is known for its demand to carve a separate state for tribals; however, their merging with the BJP is being seen as “opportunistic”. Another tribal party, the Tipraland State Party (TSP) will contest on 10 out of 60 Assembly seats in the hope to draw some votes for the demand for a separate state.
Sarma said, “I can confidently say that the BJP is going to form the government in Tripura. There is CPM, IPFT-BJP and there are some regional parties, too, but the fight is only between the Left and the BJP alliance. There is no possibility for any third party.”
Commenting on the demand for a separate state in Tripura, the BJP leader said that the issues that drive this demand should be resolved. “When people are put on the backfoot and exploited, they start to demand things. But the BJP has promised the tribal people to deliver socio-economic development. Our joint statement (with IPFT) mentions of only one Tripura. So, we intend to develop the state, respecting the socio-cultural diversity of Tripura,” Sarma said, blaming the Left for neglecting tribals.
However, CPM leader Manik Sarkar, popularly referred to as the “poorest Chief Minister of the country”, is not a man to be underestimated. His image of a clean politician with only two bank accounts and a few thousand rupees in savings has gained him enough popularity to be elected for four consecutive terms.
For the Congress, however, Meghalaya is a bigger priority than Tripura, since they have to defend their report card of a decade-long rule. C.P. Joshi, AICC general secretary in-charge of Meghalaya, said, “For five years, we have given good governance. We are the first state in the country that has given audit for social schemes. Saying that there is corruption is not enough. We have put an effort to bring in transparency. The audit is instrumental for the progress of the state and is an ideal idea that should be followed in other states too.”
On the BJP gaining foothold in Meghalaya, Joshi said, “The BJP is badly exposed in the North East. Everyone knows how the BJP has manipulated the mandate in other states. They demonstrated how they used their power in the Centre in Manipur elections. The entire North-east region does not follow BJP’s ideology.”
Sarma said: “The Congress will not get more than 10 seats in Meghalaya and I can see BJP in government there too. There is a lot of anger and frustration in Meghalaya against Congress. People want change.”
Meanwhile in Nagaland, stability is the key word in election campaigns. The state has seen two chief ministers since 2015 when the sitting Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio had decided to go for a Rajya Sabha seat. However, that dream could not materialise. Since then, factionalism in the largest party of the state, the Naga People’s Front (NPF), has made the situation complicated. Now, Rio is contesting elections representing his newly formed party Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) which has entered in a pre-poll alliance with the BJP. Until now, BJP was part of the government formed by the NPF. Therefore, the fight in Nagaland is between the BJP-NDPP alliance, NPF and the Congress which has been vocal about joining hands with the NPF.