Electoral Setback in Tripura and its Causes
THE outcome of the recently held Tripura legislative assembly elections was utterly disappointing. Left and progressive people, not just in Tripura but all over India, could not believe that the Left Front would be defeated in this election. The Tripura state committee of CPI(M) in its initial reaction said that election results were totally unexpected.
The reasons behind this observation by the Party are discussed below. Combating the neoliberal economic policies pursued by the Congress party led central government earlier, and by the present Narendra Modi led BJP government, the Left Front government in Tripura had been attempting to pursue some alternative policies. The government had implemented various development projects in the last 25 years despite its limited economic resources and limited constitutional and administrative powers.
The main thrust of the Left Front government was on the development of human resources. It implemented various welfare measures for the people with a focus on uniting the Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes, Other Backward Classes, religious minorities etc and uniting tribals and non-tribals. It regularly held local bodies elections, which enabled the empowerment of people and empowerment of women. Apart from giving almost 90 per cent subsidies to the BPL families, the Left Front government brought the entire population of the state under the food security cover. In MNREGA implementation, Tripura stood first in the country for five consecutive years. There were no beggars in the state. In per capita income, Tripura was at the top among the North Eastern states.
The Left Front government’s endeavours for expansion of education have been unparalleled. In literacy rate, Tripura was the first in the country. For the development of tribals, the Left Front government was implementing special packages. It could stop shifting cultivation. In implementing the Forest Rights Act, Tripura was at the top in the country. Left Front government and Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council through joint endeavours could bring about considerable changes in the life of the tribals. A good number of tribals have been engaged as college and school teachers, as doctors and engineers and also in the civil administration as the government was strictly implementing the reservation quota.
The Left Front government provided safe drinking water, electricity and all weather roads on a priority basis and 97 per cent of the population was covered by health care facilities. In developing the infrastructure, the Left Front government’s achievement is an eye-opener. Those who are residents of Tripura, but are living outside the state for the last 15 to 20 years, could compare the development both in towns and villages and see the changes.
Along with the focus on development, the CPI(M) and the Left Front and mass organisations continuously were conducting mass and class struggles on the all India issues and state and local issues. Through expansion of organisation among the basic masses and through politicalisation, the CPI(M) and Left Front were strengthening its mass base and in the last 25 years, it has been winning various elections with a massive mandate of the people.
In the 2018 Tripura legislative assembly election campaign, people’s participation in the Left Front meetings was larger compared to the 2013 assembly election. On December 31, 2017, the Left Front held its central election rally at Agartala. People of Tripura had not seen such a huge mass rally before. All these factors resulted in the confidence that the Left Front will be able to defeat the saffron brigade in the assembly elections. But the result was adverse.
Let us study the election results of 2013 and 2018. In the 2013 assembly elections, the voting percentage was:
Left Front: 52.32%
Congress + INPT: 44.65%
In the 2018 assembly elections the voting percentage was:
Left Front: 44.87%
The above results show the vote percentage of the Left Front has decreased by 7.45 per cent in comparison to the 2013 elections. On the other hand, vote percentage of the Congress-INPT has decreased by 42.17 per cent. BJP-IPFT’s vote gain is 48.47 per cent. This result shows that the BJP-IPFT combine has tremendously gained in the elections at the cost of the Congress-INPT. Congress leadership was not serious for campaigning; rather they allowed their followers to join the BJP. BJP combine also obtained more than 7 per cent vote share of the Left Front.
REASONS FOR SERIOUS SETBACK
The RSS led BJP used identity politics among the tribals, played the Hindutva card, used huge money power and also various allurements to defeat the Left Front in Tripura.
Serious erosion has taken place in the tribal bases which was the backbone of the CPI(M) in Tripura. Out of the 20 Scheduled Tribe reserved seats, the Left Front has won only two segments, and that too, getting less than 50 per cent votes. Tribal votes determine the results not only in the 20 reserved seats but also in many seats including the general seats and the Scheduled Caste reserved seats, except in the urban areas.
This time, the tribal votes of the Left Front have decreased not only in the tribal reserved seats but also in the non-tribal seats, with a few exceptions. In the tribal reserved constituencies, in comparison with 2013, this time, the vote percentage of the Left Front has decreased ranging from 4.76 per cent to 23.02 per cent. In the 2013 elections, Left Front won 19 out of 20 seats but this time it won only 2. This serious setback made the big difference. The RSS-BJP played identity politics through its electoral ally IPFT, a tribal regional party.
The partition of India in 1947 by the British imperialists had adversely affected Tripura. Before partition, people of Tripura used to go to other parts of India by road, railways and river line of the then East Bengal. After partition, Tripura got encircled by the newly created East Pakistan. As no infrastructure development had taken place during the tribal feudal king’s rule inside the state, partition of India aggravated the situation further and Tripura got totally isolated from the rest of India. Secondly, partition on religious-communal lines has most adversely affected Tripura. Lakhs and lakhs of Hindu Bengalis leaving their immovable and movable properties, had taken shelter in bordering states of India including Tripura. Heavy influx of refugees into Tripura outnumbered the local population and changed the demography of the state. The undivided Communist Party leadership in the state, Upjati Ganamukti Parishad (tribal mass organisation of the Communist Party) started a movement in 1950 demanding the union government to provide constitutional safeguards for the tribal people of the state, proper rehabilitation of refugees and infrastructural development of Tripura including laying of railway lines, national highways and air connectivity. In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the Communist Party in Tripura (later on Communist Party of India (Marxist)) launched powerful mass movements in Tripura. To break the tribal base of the CPI(M), the ruling Congress party gave birth to Tripura Upajati Yuba Samity, a tribal based party in the state, in 1967.
With a massive mandate of people, of both tribals and non-tribals, the first Left Front government was formed in 1978. It started implementing the 4-point demands of the tribals – recognition of their mother language ‘Kokborok’ as state language, strict implementation of reservations in jobs and promotion quota for the tribals, restoration of land to the tribals which was illegally transferred to non-tribals and creation of Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council under the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. The Congress party leadership had totally disapproved this. When the Left Front government was about to hold the first election to the Autonomous District Council, the Tripura Upajati Yuba Samity (TUJS) started an anti-foreigners movement demanding those who have come to Tripura after October 15, 1949 (date of accession of Tripura into India) to be driven out. A section of the TUJS took shelter in the Chittagong Hill tracks of Bangladesh to get arms and training in using explosives with the direct help of the CIA and the ISI of Pakistan. TUJS, Congress and Amra Bangali (frontal organisation of Ananda Marg) had incited a violent ethnic riot in June 1980 to stall the Autonomous District Council elections and to oust the Left Front government undemocratically. In about a month-long riot, more than 1400 innocent people, both Bengalis and tribals, including women and children were killed, more than 10,000 got injured. 40,000 houses got burnt. 3,15,000 people took shelter in relief camps. The Left Front government, the CPI(M) and the GMP leadership together succeeded in bringing normalcy within three months and hold the Autonomous District Council elections. Later on, in 1984, Lok Sabha passed the constitution amendment bill and extended the Sixth Schedule to Tripura.
The armed terrorist outfit of TUJS, called Tribal National Volunteers (TNV), raised the slogan of ‘Swadhin(free) Tripura’ and were constantly indulging in violent activities. Killing and mass killing mainly of the CPI(M) and GMP leaders, organisers and their family members, kidnapping for securing huge amount as ransom, extortion from villagers and forcing them to give shelter and food was almost a daily affair. Congress leader and the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had reached a secret deal with TNV leader Bijoy Hrankhal before the 1988 assembly elections and ten days before the poll, TNV had started a mass killing spree of non-tribals in few selected areas. Rajiv Gandhi declared the whole of Tripura as disturbed area under Armed Forces Special Powers Act and brought in the military without giving any information to the state government and to the Election Commission of India. Through these dubious methods, Rajiv Gandhi manipulated the elections and ousted the Left Front government. In the 1980’s, 1990’s and first decade of this century, more than 1300 CPI(M), GMP, AIDWA, youth, student and other mass organisation leaders and workers were martyred fighting against the tribal extremists.
After the Narendra Modi government came to power at the centre in 2014, the RSS-BJP leadership has targeted Tripura to dislodge the CPI(M) led Left Front government. BJP made a secret deal with the IPFT, the frontal organisation of the banned NLFT extremist outfit. In the 2015 Autonomous District Council election, IPFT first raised the demand of division of Tripura and renaming the Autonomous District Council Area as ‘Tuipraland’, leading to the formation of a separate state consisting of the ADC area. The CPI(M) and the GMP vigorously opposed this demand as the map of Autonomous District Council is such that creation of a separate state will destroy the original state, dividing it in 12-13 pieces, and also because the demand is totally unreasonable, undemocratic and divisive. In the election, the Left Front had won all the 28 seats. But the IPFT secured 18 per cent votes. On the other hand, the vote share of the Left Front decreased from 63.85 per cent in 2010 to 54.21 per cent in 2015, a loss of 9.64 per cent vote share. CPI(M), GMP and other tribal mass fronts had taken some political organisational steps. In the village committee election held in 2016 in the Autonomous District Council areas, Left Front had recovered some losses.
On August 23, 2017, the IPFT held a rally in Agartala demanding Tuipraland. During the rally, IPFT on the one side and the BJP and Trinamul Congress on the other side indulged in violence. The state government and the police somehow controlled the situation. Their game plan was to engineer an ethnic riot. On that day itself, CPI(M) won a by-election to the Autonomous District Council but with a lesser margin. It was revealed in the local press that the BJP leadership gave a large amount of money to the IPFT leadership as campaign expenses.
In the year 2017, IPFT leaders made several trips to Delhi and Guwahati and met the top BJP and RSS leaders several times. In May, an IPFT delegation met Jitendra Singh, Minister of State for the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region, Prime Minister Office, three times and started an indefinite national highway and rail line blockade from July 10, demanding Tuipraland. During the blockade, the IPFT had published a leaflet in which they disclosed the dates of their meeting with the Minister of State with PMO and stated that only under his guidance, they had started the blockade to realise their demands. BJP provided them good food, drinks, tents used by the paramilitary. A section of tribal intelligentsia including government officers used to visit them in the evening.
IPFT leadership succeeded in convincing the students and youth among their followers that if a tribal state could be carved out then all the government jobs, right from the chief secretary to Group D posts, shall be reserved only for the tribals.
While the IPFT resorted to road blockade, the BJP gheraoed the residence of chief minister. State Governor Tathagatha Roy brokered between the IPFT and the RSS-BJP leadership. On January 5, 2018, IPFT leadership met Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh. IPFT leadership told the press that both the prime minister and the home minister considered their demand for Tuipraland. After making formal electoral alliance with the BJP, the IPFT leadership, in the election campaign, made Tuipraland as their main issue and pasted posters of Autonomous District Council as ‘Tuipraland’. It was the IPFT that violently attacked the people, the GMP workers on September 19, 2017 as they were coming to Agartala to join the central rally. They injured more than 100 GMP workers and supporters including women. During the election campaign, the IPFT terrorised people in several GMP strongholds and asked the voters not to vote for CPI(M) candidates. Playing identity politics, the BJP, RSS and the IPFT could create a strong emotion among a good section of tribals including student, youth and government employees and officers, doctors, engineers etc. IPFT could make some inroads into the CPI(M) tribal bases with this emotional slogan. They made them believe that it is BJP who created smaller states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttaranchal etc. So regarding Tuipraland they will keep their promise. But during the election campaign, the prime minister, home minister and central and state BJP leaders were completely silent on Tuipraland issue. This tactic they adopted keeping in mind the non-tribal voters.
In the month of December 2017, RSS chief visited Tripura and stayed for five days. During his long stay in the state, he met different Hindu religious leaders separately. He motivated them so that their followers vote for the BJP led front. For the last three and half years, RSS workers regularly used to visit different temples and paid huge money. They used to distribute RSS membership forms. ‘Gita’ was freely distributed particularly among women who used to visit temples.
BJP used social media meticulously. It collected phone numbers of substantial number of voters in each of the constituencies. From there IT cell centers, they engaged professional youth to frequently and secretly make contacts with selective voters by using mobile phones. Through these professionals, the BJP succeeded in motivating a good section of voters by paying them huge amounts of money.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed four election rallies and in all the public meetings, Modi promised the government employees implementation of seventh pay commission awards, promised the social pension benefit holders to raise their pension amount from Rs 700 to Rs 2000. Modi promised the MGNREGA workers to raise their daily wages from Rs 184 to Rs 340. These allurements by the prime minister, his cabinet colleagues and chief minister’s of BJP ruled states those who had come to campaign, succeeded to a large extent to convince people, especially employees, to vote for the BJP-IPFT combine which was evident in the postal ballot voting pattern.
Those who are 18 to 40 years old (who attained the right to vote in the last 25 years) have not seen any other government except the Left Front. Neoliberal economy has impacted a good section of youth which changed their behaviour. Consumerism is very much evident amongst them. Tripura is also no exception. BJP’s slogan of ‘Chalo Paltai’ (change the government) definitely had its impact among them. BJP has purchased almost all of the print and electronic media. In June 2017, BJP president Amit Shah visited Tripura and met selected owners of print and electronic media and told them that "you look after us, we will look after you." These media owners were paid huge amounts through advertisements. Selected journalists also were paid.
All these factors contributed to the defeat of the Left Front government in Tripura.