March 03, 2013

BATTLEGROUND TRIPURA

THE SARKAR RAJ CONTINUES

The electoral bugle has been sounded and the political stage has been set. The General elections are just an year away and the UPA is under pressure, battling anti-incumbency and the numerous corruption scandals that seem to have become the only 'hallmark' of the Congress-led alliance in its second term. On the other hand, with the BJP being engulfed in factionalism and in-fighting,
Tripura 2013: Left vs Congress
it looks as if the NDA is in no position to form the next government. After losing Kerala and being thrown out of power in Bengal, the Left Front has lost much of its influence, thereby hampering the prospects of the much talked about Third Front. As many of the regional players are yet to formally join either of the two main formations, both the national parties are doing all that they can to woo them so as to gain an advantage over the other. With 10 states going to the polls this year, political pundits are calling the 2013 assembly elections as the semi-finals before the carnival that will unfold in 2014. The manner in which the states vote will, for sure, impact the strategies of all the key players involved and will be a great opportunity for them to assess both, the mood of the electorate and their own preparedness ahead of the grand finale. As such, they are going that extra mile to connect with the masses by getting their top leaders to draw audience and diverting their 'unaccounted wealth' into the campaign.

While a few would have dismissed the voting in Tripura - the first state that goes to the polls this year as politically insignificant, the ones who are well acquainted with the state knew that the mandate here would to a certain extent, dictate the fate of the Left Front atleast in the next few months. In fact, ever since they withdrew support to the UPA government in 2008 due to differences over the Indo-US nuclear deal, the Vampanti Morcha has seen an exponential slump in its fortunes. In the following national elections, they managed to win just 24 seats, a massive decline from their all time high of 59 in the fourteenth Lok Sabha. A couple of years later, the Red brigade lost out to the Congress-led UDF in a closely fought contest. However, the biggest blow came when Trinamool supremo Mamata Bannerjee in alliance with the INC stormed the 'impregnable' Marxist bastion of West Bengal after 34 years of 'misrule'. With the Left Front getting a severe dressing down across the nation, its standing in the political spectrum has also been hampered severely; it is no more a natural magnet for the non-UPA, non-NDA government at the Centre - an eternal dream of the the upholders of federalism. As such, the comrades were doing all that they could to retain their final frontier, hoping that a victory in Agartala would help resurrect their political graph, before and after 2014.


Leading the Socialist charge was the incumbent CM Manik Sarkar, dubbed by many leading newspapers as the 'poorest CM in the country'. Holding the top job since 1998, Sarkar declared his total assets, both movable and immovable as little less than two and a half lakh rupees while filling his nomination papers
Tripura CM Manik Sarkar
from the Dhanpur constituency. It is believed that he deposits his monthly salary of Rs 9,200 in the party fund and the CPI(M) pays him a subsistence allowance of five thousand. Known for his Mr. Clean image, even his staunchest critics credit him for his ability of staying away from all sort of controversies inspite of being in power for so long. The fifteen awards that the state has been awarded by the Centre for the successful implementation of the central schemes was portrayed by the communists as an endorsement of its good governance. Almost the entire top brass of the party including politburo members - Sitaram Yechury, Brinda Karat and other prominent leaders from the Central Committee campaigned in the North eastern state. In the numerous rallies that they attended, they were seen flaying the Congress for its failure to perform at all levels while being tight lipped on issues concerning the aam admi like widespread poverty and high rate of unemployment which the Sarkar regime have failed to tackle time and again. Probably, the biggest relief for the ruling alliance came when the Trinamool Congress decided against contesting in the state this time.


While the communist exuberated confidence of retaining power, the principal opposition - the INC looked like a divided house with various sections involved in trouncing one another, further weakening the party. After General Secretary Oscar Fernandes declared the final list of 48 candidates in January this year, protests and agitation were reported from many constituencies as heavyweights like the royal scion of the erstwhile ruling family Maharaj Pradyot Manikya Bahadur and prominent party leaders like Jawhar Saha, Biva Nath, Bikas Das and Dilip Muhuri were left out. Hoping to garner the tribal support in its favour, the Congress entered into an alliance with the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra (INPT) - seen as the political arm of the underground organization National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT). Headed by former rebel Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl, the INPT which has considerable base amongst the tribals who comprise of about 30% of the voters, was given 10 seats in the pre-poll accord. Meanwhile the Animesh Debbrama's Nationalist Conference of Tripura (NCT), the third constituent of the Congress led alliance was allowed to field one candidate. While Sonia Gandhi had to cancel her visit to the state due to ill health, Vice President Rahul Gandhi and Finance minister P C Chidambaram flew down to improve the party's prospects, lambasting the Left over insufficient development and asking the masses to give them a chance after a wait spanning approximately two decades. Other political units that have also thrown their hat in the ring are BJP, JD(U), NCP and Amar Bangali.

Development or the lack of it was the main issue in this election, depending on which side of the political divide one was. The comrades tried hard to portray Tripura as a model state, highlighting central initiatives like the MNREGA which have been
Tripura 2008: Results
carried out here in a commendable manner and banking on the persona of Sarkar. Accusing the government of failing to improve infrastructure and tackling the dual menaces of poverty and unemployment, the Congress president Sudip Roy Burman raised the slogan of 'Poribortan', aiming to replicate the success of their former ally Mamata Bannerjee in Bengal. However, unlike the TMC, the Congress was engulfed in factionalism, a fact compounded by faulty distribution of tickets thanks to the aloofness of the central observer Luizinho Faleiro. Also, the Left Front made sure that blunders like Singur and Nandigram were not replicated, not giving any chance to their adversaries to gain momentum ahead of the February 14 polls. Finally, the opposition lacked any credible leader to set their house in order and pose any sort of threat to the ruling combine. Besides, insurgency was also another much talked about topic in rallies and debates across the state. The influx of migrants into Tripura, mainly from neighbouring Bangladesh sparked off clashes between the tribals and the Bengalis in the 1980s. Militancy was particularly severe in the late nineties but counter-insurgency operations by the armed forces and efforts of successive regimes under Sarkar have taken the steam out of these banned organizations. The role of the the CM in combating the underground movement and his efforts in improving relations between the two communities was presented as another achievement of his tenure. The communist leaders slammed the INC-INPT coalition, accusing them of funding the revival of the insurgency to gain political advantage. On the other hand, the opposition hit back at the government, alleging that the member of the Left Front of being hand in gloves with the militants. Tripura has made considerable progress in this regard, especially when compared to other states in the region with terror outfits operating in the state lacking both cadre and money to carry out any attacks. However, they are reported to have changed their modulus operandi - running extortion rackets and kidnapping people for money.


The results of the Valentine day election which saw 93.57% turnout, was declared a fortnight later on February 28 along with Meghalaya and Nagaland. This was the highest percentage of polling in the electoral history of the country.
Tripura 2013: Results
As expected, the socialist won a record fifth term, their seventh in the state's history since 1978. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) won a staggering 49 seats which is over eighty percent of the strength of the assembly and is three more when compared to its numbers in 2008. The Communist Party of India also bagged one to take the alliance's tally to 50. The Chief Minister romped home to victory with over 5000 votes and so did all his cabinet colleagues - an endorsement of the policies of the previous regime. The Congress could only manage to take 10 seats like in the last assembly polls. In fact, the only silver lining for the party was that the former Speaker Jitendra Sarkar who had joined the party early this year won from Barjala constituency beating Jitendra Das who had himself defected to the Left. Surprisingly, Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl, the chief of the INPT lost to CPI(M)'s Lalit Kumar Debbarama from Ambassa. In fact, both allies of the INC - the INPT and the NCT failed to even open their accounts. Also, the BJP's dream to make their debut in the state failed to convert into reality as it drew a blank. 


The Left's performance in the assembly elections in their last bastion is truly commendable. The comrades will be hoping that this is the sign of the things to come. The spectacular results for the Reds has proved that they cannot be written off. While they may still find it hard to fight Mamata in Bengal or the Congress in Kerala, it can be safely assumed that they are going to win the two Lok Sabha seats from the state, unless they goof it up somehow. Surely, this thumping victory will revitalize the cadre across the country, strengthening its prospects ahead of the 2014 elections. A big part of the credit of the Left's success goes to the Chief Minister himself. In a vibrant democracy like ours, to be given a fourth chance is very rare and the margin of the victory is huge to say the least. If he continues the good work that he is credited for, he may well go on to become the longest serving CM ever, beating the record presently held by another communist leader - Jyoti Basu. For the Congress, it has to start from scratch. Firstly, the top leaders in the state need to put their differences aside and work for the welfare of the party. Next, an organizational revamp seems necessary and is expected soon. The party has to connect better with the people and corner the government over its failures. For the time being, the Sarkar Raj in Tripura is to continue for another five years.

SOURCES

(1) Deccan Herald - Manik Sarkar 'cleanest and poorest' CM (Link)

(2) The Hindu - Campaign ends in Tripura (Link)

(3) Daily News - Candidate list sets cats amongst pigeons in Tripura Congress (Link)

(4) NDTV - Tripura: All Parties (Link)

(5) Zee News - NE Election Results (Link)