THE Tripura assembly election has delivered an unexpected verdict. The BJP-IPFT alliance has won a two-third majority of the seats polling 50.5 per cent (BJP- 43 per cent and IPFT 7.5 per cent).
The Left Front which had been in office for the past 25 years and had won five successive elections since 1993 got only 16 seats though it polled 45 per cent of the vote.
How did such a dramatic change take place? The major political feature has been the shift in the alignments in the state. The Congress has been traditionally the second biggest political party in the state and the main opponent of the CPI(M). As such it had spearheaded the anti-communist campaign and had organised the violence and rigging of the elections in 1988 to dislodge the Left Front government headed by Nripen Chakraborty. The Congress-TUJS coalition government became notorious for the semi-fascist terror unleashed under it which saw the killing of 350 members and supporters of the CPI(M).
The Congress, the main opposition, saw a wholesale defection to the BJP. In the past two years from top to bottom, its leadership and cadres were appropriated by the BJP. Seven out of its 10 MLAs first joined the Trinamul Congress and soon after switched over to the BJP.
This resulted in the Congress vote share of 36.54 per cent in 2013 assembly elections plunging to 1.8 per cent in the current election. The INPT, which was allied to the Congress in the last election saw its vote dropping from 8.1 per cent to 0.7 per cent.
Many of the candidates put up by the BJP were these former Congress leaders, who are known for their virulent anti-communist outlook. As a result, the BJP was able to consolidate the anti-Left vote behind it. Similarly, its ally the Indigenous People Front of Tripura (IPFT) was able to neutralise the other tribal party the INPT, the former ally of the Congress and take over its base. But this alone would not account for the BJP alliance getting over 50 per cent of the vote. There were other factors.
The scale of the money pumped into the state before the elections was unprecedented. Well before the elections, a huge amount of money was deployed to win over the candidates of the other bourgeois parties. Mobile phone and motorcycles were distributed and various allurements provided to the ordinary people in selected areas. The entire bourgeois media in the state was suborned to project the BJP and mount a negative campaign against the Left Front government.
The BJP campaigned on the slogan of change. It looks like this has struck a chord with the young generation of voters particularly the urban and tribal youth. Despite the all-round positive performance of the Left Front government, the fact remains that generating jobs for the educated youth posed a big challenge. With the expansion of educational facilities under successive Left Front governments, there has been a growing number of educated youth, particularly tribal educated youth. Tripura is a landlocked state surrounded by Bangladesh on three sides. Given the remoteness of the geographical location and inadequate communications, it has been difficult to attract investments and industry in the state. Government jobs were the main source of employment. This had obvious limitations.
The Left Front government had ensured a decade of peace and stability after ending the insurgency. Remarkable progress was made in literacy and other social indicators. However, the last three years witnessed a deliberate effort by the Modi government at the centre to obstruct the welfare-oriented work of the state government. The funds allocated for the MNREGS (rural employment guarantee scheme) saw a substantial cut adversely affecting the best administered scheme in the country. Similarly, the allocation of foodgrains for the PDS also saw major cuts in these years.
The CPI(M) and the Left Front government had made a historic contribution to maintaining tribal and non-tribal unity in the face of the most divisive and separatist attacks over the last four decades. Tripura had emerged as a model of good governance and ethnic unity and harmony in the North East. Despite this, the BJP-IPFT alliance was able to win substantial support among the tribal people.
The Party will have to examine carefully what has caused the alienation of sections of the tribal people. There has to be a critical examination of the work of the Left Front government and the functioning of the local bodies and panchayats to find out if links with the people were weakened in some sectors. Such an examination is also required for the Party organisation and work of the mass organisations.
The Tripura state unit of the CPI(M) has a proud record of fighting for the cause of the people and standing by them through thick and thin. The Party will therefore take stock of this serious setback and take appropriate political and organisational measures to remove any negative trends and weaknesses.
The immediate aftermath of results on March 3 has seen widespread attacks on CPI(M) and trade union offices all over the state. Houses of Party leaders and cadres have been attacked; hundreds were injured. The BJP-RSS gangs seek to suppress the Party and the Left Front by force. Statues of Lenin are being pulled down. But the Party and the mass organisations will withstand these attacks and reorient themselves to work in the new political situation. They have the support and solidarity of all the Left and progressive forces in the country.
The Tripura electoral defeat is a major setback for the CPI(M) and the Left and democratic forces in the country. This is the first time the Left Front had to fight the BJP as its main opponent. The electoral loss must lead to a critical evaluation of our political, ideological and organisational work to counter the offensive of the BJP-RSS combine. The coming Party Congress should help us to equip the Party to face the forthcoming battles effectively.
(March 5, 2018)