Surging BJP, crumbling Left, retreating Congress in Tripura will impact politics ahead of 2019 election  

The spectacular rise of the BJP, the crumbling of one of the only two remaining Left fortresses, and the near-total retreat of the Congress -- all three will have an impact in the run up to 2019 poll.

Published: 03rd March 2018 04:43 PM  |   Last Updated: 03rd March 2018 05:22 PM   |  A+A-

A BJP supporters wear a mask of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to celebrate party's victory in Tripura Assembly elections in Agartala on Saturday. | PTI

Express News Service

NEW DELHI: Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland add up to a mere "0.70 per cent of India's population, equivalent to three Lok Sabha constituencies in Rajasthan", wrote a dismissive voice on Twitter. But that's a gross misreading. At the end of a day that saw one stunning sweep and two hung assemblies, the Northeast had done enough to make a deep mark on the national political discourse.


The spectacular rise of the BJP in states where it was never given even an outside chance, the crumbling of one of the only two remaining Left fortresses, and the near-total retreat of the Congress -- all three phenomena will have a lasting impact on Indian politics in the run-up to 2019.

The most dramatic results came in from Tripura. Manik Sankar, the lone sentinel in the east for the CPI(M) who was chief minister for two uninterrupted decades, will finally bow out to a mix of ethnic antagonisms, rising aspirations and the desire for change. The last sentiment was captured in the BJP's slogan of 'Chalo Paltai' (Let's Overturn), voiced by a man ironically named 'Revolution', Biplab Deb, now all set to be CM.

The BJP's alliance with the (largely Christian) tribal party IPTF, which demands a separate Tipraland state, was the real gamechanger. It helped the saffron party make inroads into the Left's tribal strongholds. In the permanent ethnic tension between 'tribal' and 'outsider' (read: Bengali) that is central to Tripura politics, this allowed the BJP access to the very core. 

But that was not all. There was also a surge among urban voters tired of a depressed economy, particularly the youth (angry due to unemployment) and teachers (whose jobs CPM could not regularise). The desire for jobs and growth, common to all three states and which the BJP could harness, played a big role in Manik Sarkar's personal appeal as a legendary clean politician diminishing -- though the Left still retained about 44 per cent vote share. 

Beyond that, there was the Debnath community, the largest Scheduled Caste bloc in Tripura, who dominate the 10 reserved constituencies. This community is linked to the Gorakhnath temple, and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was naturally roped in for campaigning in those seats. So it was a 'plus plus plus' story for the BJP -- going from zero to a staggering majority in a stunning onslaught on hitherto virgin territory.

The saffron party can thank the individual contributions of crucial RSS pointsman Sunil Deodhar, who has put in years of work in the Northeast and focused big-time on the tribal people in the last many months. Plus, Amit Shah's crafty, hands-on decision-making and Assam strongman Himanta Biswa Sarma's deep roots and deal-making abilities meant the Congress leadership and rank and file practically walked over to the BJP. 
There was also a wider economic context. Tripura was changing. Connectivity had been kickstarted in the UPA era with metre-gauge rail and internet. The Modi regime had expanded on this with broad-gauge rail, an alternate internet gateway, a new National Highway, plus rail-, road-, river- and even sea port-connectivity through Bangladesh.

Ironically, all this only fuelled popular aspirations to a point that Sarkar couldn't quench. The young voters in Tripura, and elsewhere in the N-E, was looking at events like the Assam investor summit, which had a ripple effect in all states.

If Nagaland looks like a big happy family, with both rival Naga parties willing to join hands with the BJP, Meghalaya was the only state that offered hope to the Congress -- and scope for punters as the day wore on. The BJP may still get its foot in the door along with P.A. Sangma's son Conrad Sangma (of the NPP) and others.

If the Congress is restricted to 22-23, it has to depend on other smaller parties. The GOP's playmakers Ahmed Patel, Kamal Nath and Mukul Wasnik have flown in though they may come up short against Himanta's formidable skills.

The only solace is that it's not abdicating after elections like in Goa and Manipur. CM Mukul Sagma, facing a dual attack from Conrad and the BJP, is playing hard. He himself won both his seats too.

'Others' becomes a crucial variable in a humdinger like this. The key trio of the United Democratic Party (UDP), Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP) and the Garo National Council (GNC) had formed a pre-poll alliance and can play the kingmaker in a hung assembly where 31 seats are required for clear majority.

But what has this got to do with 2019? The North-East contributing to 25 seats to Lok Sabha can easily offset any loss of seats the BJP may suffer in the north. 

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