BJP’s route into CPM-stronghold Tripura is via the Trinamool Congress
By Priyanka Deb Barman
On the way of Mission Northeast, the Left Front is Bharatiya Janata Party’s main hurdle in Tripura. But before taking on the entrenched reds, the saffron brigade appears to be gobbling up other competitors ahead of the 2018 assembly elections. In less than 48 hours since 23 March, 2017, some 1,250 Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders, members, and supporters joined the BJP. It was reminiscent of how the TMC poached Congress leaders almost a year ago in a bid to do a West Bengal by uprooting the Marxists.
The Congress in Tripura was on TMC’s radar much before the BJP set out to make the Northeast comprising eight states Congress-free. In June last year, less than a month after the BJP ended 15 years of Congress rule in Assam, the TMC lured away six of the 10 Congress MLAs in Tripura.
It was the culmination of TMC’s 17 years of penetration in the Congress that began with former chief minister Sudhir Ranjan Majumder in 1999. Majumder died 10 years later. But while the BJP expanded its footprint from Assam to Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, the TMC’s march has been somewhat halted in Tripura owing to a leadership tussle.
TMC lost hundreds of leaders and workers to the BJP this month. The TMC received a major blow when Surajit Dutta and Ratan Chakraborty – ministers in Majumder’s Congress government from 1988-1993 – donned saffron within 14 days of each other.
Dutta and Chakraborty were among a handful of leaders who helped the TMC grow in Tripura. Dutta went on to be the TMC’s state unit president while Chakraborty became the chairman of the party’s coordination committee. “I respect (TMC president and West Bengal chief minister) Mamata Banerjee’s leadership spirit but she has entrusted the Tripura unit of the party with those who do not worked for the people,” Chakraborty said after joining BJP with 42 others in the presence Union minister of state for railways Rajen Gohain on Thursday.
Accusing Tripura’s TMC leaders of working at the behest of chief minister Manik Sarkar’s Left Front government, Chakraborty said the BJP was the only party capable of loosening the Marxist stranglehold on the state since 1993. Gohain agreed. “Tripura will see a tsunami in 2018 just as people in Uttar Pradesh did,” Gohain said.
Tripura is one of three north-eastern states where assembly elections are scheduled in 2018. The other two are Meghalaya, where BJP is confident of displacing the Congress-led coalition, and Nagaland, which is ruled by a coalition that the regional Naga People’s Front, a BJP ally, heads.
TMC insiders admitted that a few MLAs and party office-bearers were in touch with BJP leaders and could switch over. State BJP president Biplab Kumar Deb is learnt to have met TMC legislator Biswabandhu Sen besides Congress MLA Ratan Lal Nath, who had indirectly supported demonetisation in the last assembly session.
The Congress, though, has downplayed the threat from either BJP or TMC. “The BJP does not take the Northeast seriously, and it seems to be gaining ground only because of frequent visits by Central ministers,” veteran Congress leader Tapas Dey said.
The BJP has a long way to go in Tripura but been making its presence felt since 2015
• Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council polls on May 3, 2015: The Left Front swept the 28 seats but BJP came second in five and was largely responsible for the communists getting less than 50% votes, as was the case earlier
• By-poll for Pratapgarh and Surma assembly constituencies on June 27, 2015: BJP displaced the opposition Congress for the second spot behind CPM that won both seats
• Civic polls in December 2015: BJP won four seats each in two councils, stood second in five municipal councils and two seats in one Nagar Panchayat; Congress could manage only 13 seats
• Tribal area village council polls in February 2016: BJP won 75 seats while the Marxists won 2,939 of the total 3,695 seats in 528 village councils
• By-poll for Barjala and Khowai assembly in November 2016: CPM won both seats but came second in Barjala, earlier with Congress, and finished a close third in Khowai