August 27, 2023

Assembly Bye-Election in Tripura: Left Front to Give a Big Fight

Haripada Das

ON August 8, 2023, the Election Commission of India (ECI) declared bye-elections for two vacant assembly seats in Tripura. The elections are scheduled to occur on September 5, while the vote counting is slated for September 8. Among the constituencies, the 23-Dhanpur assembly constituency became vacant immediately after the assembly election. The elected candidate from the BJP, Pratima Bhowmik, who also held the position of union minister of state for social justice and empowerment, opted to resign from her assembly seat due to her unmet high political aspirations, and decided to continue as a central minister and member of parliament.

 The second vacant seat resulted from the unfortunate demise of Samsul Haque, a CPI(M) MLA from the 20-Boxsanagar assembly constituency, on July 6, 2023. Both of these constituencies are situated in the Sonamura sub-division within the Sepahijala district.

The Tripura Left Front committee has unanimously endorsed the CPI(M) to contest both seats that were traditionally held by the Party. Following the conclusion of the nomination withdrawal period on August 21, it is evident that both seats will witness a direct contest between the ruling BJP and the CPI(M). While two independent candidates remain in the running, their impact on the election outcome is anticipated to be minimal.

As there was an understanding established with the Congress party during the assembly election held last February, the CPI(M) wanted  to continue it in the bye-election as well. On August 12, a meeting was convened at the CPI(M) legislative office within the MLA Hostel, bringing together representatives from both parties. Representing the CPI(M) were Jitendra Chaudhury, Narayan Kar, Manik Dey, and Ratan Bhowmik, all state secretariat members. Ashish Saha and Sudip Roy Barman attended on behalf of the Congress. The primary focus of the discussion was to prevent the fragmentation of the anti-BJP vote in the upcoming bye-election. The CPI(M) expressed its intention to contest both seats, emphasizing their historical association with the Party, including one being a currently held seat. The Congress leaders concurred with this position.

An unexpected participant, Animesh Debbarma of Tipra Motha and the leader of the opposition, joined the meeting and shared their commitment to thwart any advantage for the ruling BJP by avoiding a split in opposition votes. This lesson was drawn from the experience of the assembly election. Animesh Debbarma's proactive, positive approach was welcomed by all present at the meeting. However, he mentioned that their final political stance would be announced the following day after a high-level discussion with Pradyut Kishore Debbarman. Despite Tipra Motha's decision not to contest the election, they have yet to announce their position or guide their supporters regarding voting alignment.

On August 16, Mizan Hossain, the son of the late CPI(M) MLA and a prominent youth front leader in the state, submitted his nomination for the 20-Boxanagar assembly constituency. Kaushik Chanda, a kisan leader who had previously contested the assembly election, filed his nomination for the 23-Dhanpur assembly constituency.

The bye-election takes place against a backdrop of lingering apprehension, as the aftermath of distressing attacks on Left leaders, workers, and supporters, coupled with the targeting of their livelihoods, continues to cast a shadow over the region. Following the BJP's victory in the assembly election earlier this year, a relentless onslaught unfolded for a span of 10 days. During this period, affiliates of the BJP launched aggressive assaults that reverberated throughout the entire state. In the confines of the Sonamura sub-division alone, these BJP elements perpetrated over 400 instances of various attacks. The range of these assaults included the burning of residences, shops, vehicles, and rubber plantations, widespread acts of looting and vandalism targeting houses and stores, cases of extortion, obstruction of commercial vehicles operated by Left supporters on the roads, as well as the unjust termination of numerous scheme workers and incidents of physical aggression.

In numerous cases, filing FIRs proved difficult, and even when formal complaints were registered, the police response remained minimal, addressing only a limited number of instances. Presently, the BJP's tactics of intimidation appear subdued, possibly due to the vigilant stance of the Election Commission and apprehension of negative repercussions on their election prospects. However, there is a likelihood of a resurgence in such tactics after the election.

Amid a multitude of concerns facing the ruling BJP – including issues of livelihood, escalating prices, scarcity of rural employment opportunities, poor infrastructure encompassing healthcare, water, electricity, and education, as well as constraints on TTAADC's financial and administrative autonomy – the central question revolves around whether the ruling party will allow a genuinely fair election.

There are valid reasons for the heightened apprehensions among the people. All dak bungalows and government guest houses in the Sonamura sub-division are exclusively allocated for BJP leaders. During their nomination submission on August 17, the BJP was allowed to assemble supporters within a restricted zone in front of the RO's office, while the CPI(M) procession was denied access the preceding day. On August 20, the BJP organised a gathering for government-employed Madrasa teachers, addressed by their candidate. Contrary to legal provisions, the BJP filed nominations with large crowds within the RO's office. Throughout the election campaign, the ruling BJP has consistently flouted the model code of conduct, with minimal action from the Election Commission in response to these violations. Both central and state ministers are indiscriminately promising various new development projects in regions centered on the election.

Against this backdrop of tension, CPI(M) leaders and members are actively canvassing with determination, adopting a door-to-door strategy to connect with every household in the constituency. The BJP's audacious disregard for electoral regulations underscores the vulnerability of the ruling party. However, holding an impartial and unbiased election requires a resolute stance from the Election Commission against all violators.