By Ashis Biswas
With Assembly elections only eight months away, the ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) in Tripura is not yet a united house. The central BJP leadership may have sought to combat negative anti incumbency trends among common voters by replacing Mr Biplab Deb as Chief Minister by his colleague Mr Manik Saha., but that has not helped the saffrons much upto now.
It is a pre-poll tactic the BJP has used before and in some states it has worked. Mr. Deb’s tenure in Tripura has been eventful, with the centre’s generously financing the state’s infrastructural development projects. These include modernising/upgrading the state’s airport, providing it with top quality internet facilities, expanding its rail/road linkages with Bangladesh and Kolkata, among other things. Some projects are still under implementation, but broadly speaking, the centre/state governments can claim that they have tried hard to help Tripura get over its past record of poor development and economic backwardness.
The downside consists of a poor law and order situation, where the main opposition CPI(M) and Congress parties complain of blatantly unfair election tactics and sustained intimidation against their cadres/supporters. Democratic practices and norms have been systematically flouted by the BJP under Mr Deb, who also lost some friends and well wishers through controversial comments and statements occasionally. He had been pulled up by senior leaders for this.
The state party itself was split into pro and anti-Deb factions, as the Chief Minister dropped a Minister on one occasion and sidelined a few other leaders within the organisation. The divisions could not be concealed and despite the change of guards at the top, inner party differences remain as sharp as ever. This became evident over the demonstration by dissident elements over the selection of Mr Saha as the new Chief Minister. Mr Deb, it needs stressing, continues to remain effective within the organisation, according to Agartala-based media reports.
In 2023 assembly polls, Trinamool Congress will be a major player. Congressmen and CPI(M) leaders allege that as in Goa and Tripura earlier, the TMC’s main objective in Tripura is to help the BJP by cutting into the share of votes traditionally won by the secular opposition, which is strongly denied by TMC leaders. Its initial foray into the state in 2021 was none too successful. Its highly expensive pre-poll campaign headed by major leaders like MP Abhishek Banerjee and others failed to win it a single seat in the civic polls!
Also, the familiar TMC strategy for ‘growth’, the main part of which is to wean away disgruntled leaders and workers of other parties, did not work over the years. The TMC’s logic is that such leaders have a local base and a following which helps a new party strike its roots faster. It would take a new party much longer to begin its organizational work from the grassroots.
Unfortunately, whether from the Congress or the BJP, most leaders/others who joined the TMC lost little time to desert their new party on some pretext or other. The latest example occurred a few days ago when Mr Ashis Saha, former BJP leader who had joined the TMC, quit the party announcing that it(the TNC) had no programme or ideology and was only keen to cut into the secular vote , to help the BJP!
Some senior TMC leaders feel that their policy to encourage defections from other parties was bound to backfire occasionally, more so in smaller states like Goa or those in the Northeast. They had raised the matter in inner party discussions. But neither Mr Banerjee nor TMC’s Adviser, poll specialist Prashant Kishor whose agency IPAC had done pre-poll surveys in Tripura, Goa and elsewhere before the party fought in local elections, saw any reason to discourage people from other parties from joining: their clinching argument was, the TMC must pursue a path of growth, which involved facing a few risks when it came to building up organisations in new areas.
As things now stand, there may be anti-B JP feelings among a sizable section of voters. While the power once enjoyed by the Congress may have declined, the CPI(M)-led Left forces and various tribal groups led by the indigenous IPFT still have a major following among the people. Despite supporting the BJP, the IPFT could well drive a harder bargain in pre-poll talks with the saffron party. As in most alliances, there are known differences between the tribal leaders and the BJP, which led to tribal hardliners occasionally calling for a ‘break’. They have at times pressed for a restoration of tribal rule, too.
The LF too had ruled Tripura for many years before the B JP defeated them in the 2018 assembly polls. Even under BJP rule, there is hardly anyone in Tripura who can point an accusatory finger against former CPI(M) Chief Minister, the universally respected Mr Manik Sarkar. The BJP’s chief grouse against the long Left rule is corruption, lack of progress and economic growth. The unemployment among youth reached a peak as there was little growth of industries.
As for the BJP, the trend of sustained dissidence within the state party against what is alleged to be the autocratic even dictatorial ways pursued by former CM Mr Deb may be a bigger problem for the central leadership to solve than other issues. The presence of the TMC on the sidelines of the electoral battles provides a unique opportunity for disgruntled BJP leaders/followers to inflict major damage to their present inner party opponents in the days ahead, unless better discipline prevails within the saffron party. Fortunately, the state BJP has some time on its hands to settle some internal issues. And the central leadership is serious in resolving the issues. (IPA Service)
The post Dissidence Issue Still Dogging BJP In Tripura Under New CM Manik Saha first appeared on IPA Newspack.