While the lack of development of Tripura under the Manik Sarkar government gives the BJP an obvious electoral plank, the CPM enjoys better penetration among the voters
High-profile ministers and bigwigs of the Bharatiya Janata Party are being virtually para-dropped in Tripura to ensure a victory for the party in the Assembly election of 18 February, but this could be a tougher nut for the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo to crack than Assam. An overview suggests it is the BJP everywhere, as the streets, lanes and by-lanes of the State’s cities and villages alike are overwhelmed by party flags. There are but five aspects of the hustings that is working to the advantage of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). One, Manik Sarkar’s men enjoy a deep penetration in households. Two, a substantial section of the voters of the Indian National Congress who want the BJP to come to power this time are mortally scared of the implications in their respective neighbourhoods in the event of the challenger’s defeat, as the anti-CPM voters will be identified and harassed. Three, despite the BJP’s tie-up with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, the tribal people have been voting like robots for the ruling party, resigned to their ‘fate’ of leading wretched lives. Four, the presence of Muslims along the Bangladesh border notwithstanding, the community has so far had a benign presence in the State, not threatening a thriving, overtly Vaishnava, Hindu population, unlike in many other parts of the country. Scaring the Hindus of an imminent takeover of the local culture by Islam will, hence, not work. Five, while Bengalis with almost 70% of the population occupy one-third of the land, the tribal people live in sparsely populated hills and forests that cover about two-third part of the land. An anti-incumbent-but-intimidated Bengali population and a habitually pro-incumbent Deb Burmans, Noatias and Marasinghs do not add up the votes for the BJP.
Tripura is but crying for a change, a drastic one at that. There is no semblance of an industry in the State. Sarkar uses the elusive government contract jobs to arm-twist voters into submission. The tribal population lives hand-to-mouth, with their livelihood being as primitive as collecting twigs of (rubber) trees and earning less than 1% from the sale proceeds. Bitumen must have been laid on the roads ages ago, as now most of the stretches have either been dug out or they are in a state of utter neglect or disrepair. Even in the absence of economic development, the air is difficult to breathe in, thanks to the dust rising from the muddy roads. That said, the visualisation of development for an individual is limited by his imagination. One who has hardly seen his life change through the decades do not know how the people from the rest of the world live. Ergo, if the pathetic roads of Bihar could not defeat Nitish Kumar in 2015 — because, before he arrived, the roads did not even exist — it is unlikely to cause Sarkar’s fall in Tripura.
The messaging in the remaining days by the Prime Minister will, therefore, have to be clear and distinct in nature. Shunning his reluctance to share a capitalistic vision with the crowds at election rallies, he will have to talk “jobs”, “jobs” and “jobs” — while also telling the people of Tripura that this employment will not be sarkari; they will come from the private sector. These speeches must reach where the BJP’s vision document can’t. Bengalis must be assured of protection and urged for a final push. The Adivasis must be informed how far the world outside their realm has moved on and helped to regain self-esteem and pride in their identity. And if Sarkar is not complacent and arrogant, he must apologise to the people for keeping the State backward, promising them that the eighth Left Front government, if formed, will welcome investors. Of course, one can be sure no communist will dare again to be a Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. The INC looks no more energised than on the previous occasions; the probability of the rearing of its head and costing the BJP crucial negative votes is low. The Trinamool Congress has given up before a fight. Modi-Shah, therefore, have a fair chance while it will not be the bookies’ favourite.