The Left must be breathing a sigh of relief. After losing out to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and to Congress-led UDF government in Kerala, they have managed to retain the state of Tripura for a record fifth time in a row by winning 50 seats in the 60-member Assembly. The CPI-M, the major partner in the Left Front, had contested 56 seats with RSP two and CPI and Forward Bloc one each.
However, the results are no surprise. Most of the poll predictions had in fact said that the Left Front would come back to power in the state by a substantial margin and it did. Some credited its return to good governance, while others said that they had been successful in tackling decades of insurgency in the state. Remember, the state had once seen bloodbath unleashed by the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and its armed wing, the National Holy Army and All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF). Also the organisational base of CPM is very strong in the state. Coupled with this was the factor that the bureaucracy in the state and ministers are perceived to be by and largely clean and seen to be delivering.
In the run up to the polls, the CPI(M) took credit for all of the above and even more. The party took the credit, and deservedly, for bringing peace to the North East state and ending years of strife. As Chief Minister Manik Sarkar said in an interview to ‘People’s Democracy’ – “The most important achievement has been the complete restoration of peace that had been shattered due to extremism. At one point of time Tripura and terrorism were synonymous. People had lost confidence and those with ability were deserting the state by migrating to other states. It was a continuous and tough struggle.”
The CPM also projected Tripura as a role model vis-à-vis good governance. The party highlighted the fact that it had topped the list of states in the implementation of MNREGA and received more than 15 awards from the Centre for successfully implementing various other schemes.
The BPL families in Tripura are said to be getting 35 kg rice per month at the rate of Rs 2 per kg and the state government has introduced almost 15 old age and infirmity allowance schemes which cover 2.25 lakh people cutting across social strata. In hindsight, it seems that these people-friendly policies have gone down well amongst the masses
Predictably, the presumed anti-people policies pursued by the Central government and their implication on the common people were harped on by the Left leaders both from the states and the central politburo. Price rise, hike in fuel, FDI in retail sector and cap LPG were the key focus areas of the Left campaign. No wonder when Rahul Gandhi came calling, his oratory had little effect on the people.
On the other hand, the Congress will have to wait for a few more years to try and snatch power from the Left Front in Tripura. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi campaigned in the state but the results would not be to his liking. But again, probably he would have expected it. Congress and its allies won just 10 seats. Notably, Congress had contested 48 seats. Its coalition partners INPT and National Conference of Tripura fielded 11 and one candidates respectively.
The main focus of the Congress campaign was the slogan ‘Paribartan’ (change). But what is obvious from the result is that the people of Tripura were not ready for change – hand over power to the party which ruled the state from 1988 to 1993.
In what can be said about a typical and clichéd way of campaigning by the Congress, Rahul Gandhi urged the people of Tripura to oust the ‘anti-people’ Left Front government in the state and vote for a party which would give them good governance. He told voters at a rally at Agartala – “The Centre sent huge amount of money for the state`s development but it is diverted to CPI-M party funds. The fund for development, for construction of roads, for MGMNREGA or employment generation all go to that party.” He also said – “We have ousted them from Kerala and West Bengal and now time has come to throw them out of Hindustan”. Nonetheless, the rhetoric had no effect on the people who went ahead and voted for the Left combine.
Also reminiscent of what happened in the Gujarat Assembly Elections, while the sharing of seats among the Left Front constituents was more or less amicable, the Congress leaders first took time to finalise their candidates and then were at loggerheads with INPT-NCT regarding seat sharing.
In the polling that took place on February 14, voters’ turnout was very high. High voter turnout traditionally means two things – either the ruling combine is on its way out because of the incumbency factor or the voters are ready to bring back the incumbent party in power. For Tripura, a high voter turnout of 93.57 percent has meant a clean sweep for the Left. This is a trend which has been reflected in the past too.
In 2008, the voter turnout was 92.6 percent which had seen the Left parties coming back to power. The CPI-M had won 46 seats and partners CPI and RSP had secured one and two seats respectively.
For Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, this win must have given him a lot of personal satisfaction given what had happened to the Left in other states. For the Left, who experts say, needs to reinvent itself if it does not want to perish from the political landscape of India, Sarkar should be the new beacon of hope. CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury has termed the win in Tripura as a “re-emergence of the Left”.
Yes, the man who came into politics through the student movement and became the CM for the first time in 1998 when Dasarath Deb stepped down due to old age can surely take the credit for his party’s exceptional performance. In his own words – “As per a survey conducted by the Union Finance Ministry and Central Statistical Office in 2004, the per capita income in Tripura was Rs 24,394. The same organisations in their survey in 2011 found that it had increased to Rs 50,750. This increased purchasing power of people is reflecting in different aspects of our society like trade, commerce, agriculture, food consumption etc.” He also campaigned extensively in the state and is said to have addressed three to four rallies in a day during the fag end of campaigning.
The Bharatiya Janata Party had fielded 20 candidates in the polls out of 249 who were in fray. The party had never won a seat in the state before these elections and the 2013 election was no different with the BJP failing to open its account.