On 25 March, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi attacked the CPM-led Left Front government, which has been in power in Tripura since 1993. Speaking at a rally in Koroimura, 20 km from state capital Agartala, Rahul roared: “Friends, you need to understand that the communists are now a nonentity in our country. They have been rejected everywhere. Globally, they don’t have any acceptance. It’s time to show them the door.”
A month earlier, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi made similar comments at a rally in Agartala. “Despite political stability in Tripura, all-round development is very slow,” he said. “Why is there so much poverty? Why is there no economic development? Why is it so hard for the poor people to get a BPL card unless she/he enrolls with the CPM?”
In Tripura, nearly 70 percent of the people live below the poverty line, yet the state has been the best performer in the implementation of various UPA flagship programmes such as MGNREGA, a curious paradox to reckon with.
As if the twin challenges weren’t enough, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who threw the Left Front out of power in West Bengal, has fielded strong candidates to the two Lok Sabha seats in the state.
But such bluster is unlikely to have rattled Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, who has been lauded for his clean image, good governance and taming ethnic insurgency. “It doesn’t matter who comes for campaigning, the Left Front is going to win,” says CPM general secretary Bijan Dhar. “We have been in power because the people have voted for us election after election. This cannot happen unless you perform, unless you work with the people.”
Since 1951, the Left Front has won the Tripura East constituency (reserved for tribals) 11 times and Tripura West 10 times, respectively. In contrast, the Congress has managed to win them only four and three times.
“Whenever the Congress fielded anyone outside the royal family from the reserved seat, it lost,” says veteran Congressman Tapas Dey. “The tribals are the major vote bank of the Left. In fact, the communists enjoy an entrenched support base in the rural areas of the state, but the tribals also have a strong liking for the royal family.”
The Congress would have had some hope of revival if royal scion and PCC general secretary Pradyot Manikya Debburman had taken over the reins or contested the Lok Sabha polls. But he has decided to stay away due to infighting. “I want to play a role in state politics and no one asked my opinion before shortlisting my name for the Lok Sabha polls,” he says. “There is a section of state Congress leaders who want to keep the party divided.”
CPM’s Bajuban Riyan, 73, has represented the East Tripura constituency from 1996. However, the party has decided to not field him due to old age. Instead, the dynamic Industries and Commerce Minister Jitendra Chaudhury will be candidate from the reserved seat.
“In the rest of the Northeast, mass and class struggles are not as rooted as in Tripura,” says Chaudhury. Moreover, being multicultural, ethnically divided and economically backward, the states remain dependent upon the Centre. So, the party in power at the Centre has always dominated these states. In Tripura, the mass and class struggle that took roots since 1948, has sustained all along and remains intact. It was further cemented due to the negative attitude of the Congress.”
Sankar Prasad Dutta will be the Left Front’s candidate from West Tripura.
“The Left Front is trying to establish a single-party rule, which will prove to be detrimental for a democratic set-up,” says John Debbarma, a tribal youth. “Tripura has done better than other small states but only those who back the Left get the benefits. The Opposition is too fragmented to pose a challenge.”
In the 2009 General Election, the Left Front secured 86 percent of the votes and looks on course for a repeat show. It will take more than the likes of Modi or Rahul to storm the red bastion.