Tripura Assembly Elections 2018: BJP’s tie-up with Tribal outfit IPTF was game changer

There was also a surge among urban voters tired of a depressed economy, particularly the youth (angry due to unemployment) and teachers (whose jobs CPI-M could not regularise).

Published: 04th March 2018 11:11 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th March 2018 11:11 AM   |  A+A-

BJP party workers celebrate at party headquarters after Assembly election results in New Delhi on Saturday. | PTI

Express News Service

NEW DELHI: The BJP’s alliance with the (largely Christian) tribal party IPTF, which demands a separate Tipraland state, was the real game changer. 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 CPI-M 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 stunning 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 tribals 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 meter-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. By evening, Nagaland seemed to be virtually in the BJP pocket as well, as its alliance inched to 30 seats. Anyway, the state presented the picture of 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 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 a clear majority.

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