AGARTALA: The BJP is pinning its hopes on Tripura’s ‘didi’ Pratima Bhoumik to capture the Dhanpur seat, a Left bastion since 1972. Four-time former Chief Minister Manik Sarkar of the CPM contested five times (1998-2018) from Dhanpur in the Sipahijala district, which shares a border with Bangladesh, and never lost. He opted out this time, brightening the hopes of Bhoumik as well as the BJP.
Dhanpur is in rural Tripura where people depend largely on agriculture to eke out a living. The constituency has 31% Muslim voters. The fiery Bhoumik will be up against the CPM’s Kaushik Chanda, TIPRA Motha’s Amiya Dayal Noatia, Trinamool Congress’ Habil Miah and two others contesting as Independents. A straight contest is expected between BJP and CPM.
This is the second time that Bhoumik is contesting from the seat. She lost to Sarkar in 2018 by a margin of 5,441 votes. The BJP had a statewide vote share of 1.54% in the 2013 elections that the Left won for the fifth time in a row. But in 2018, the BJP stopped the Left juggernaut by winning 36 of the state’s 60 seats and forming the government.
“In 2018, the people voted the BJP to power to get freedom from the Left. This election will decide Tripura’s fate,” the 53-year-old told this newspaper. “Tripura is a small state and depends heavily on the Centre. There was no last-mile delivery of the Centre’s flagship programmes when the Left was in power. The Left discriminated against people on party and religious lines,” she said.
When Bhoumik, who hails from a family of farmers and is the first graduate in her village, joined the BJP in 1991, it was a fledgling party. With the BJP’s growth in the state, she too climbed the ladders of success. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, she won from the Tripura West seat and two years later, she became the first Central minister from the state.
CPM’s Sarkar says the “fascist” BJP compelled the two parties to come together. “The BJP is nervous. It is enemy No 1 of the people of Tripura. We have to defeat it to protect the Constitution and secularism,” the veteran politician said. The BJP captured power in 2018 riding on its slogan of ‘Chalo Paltai’ (let’s change). Sarkar said the changes the BJP effected include taking away citizens’ rights, winning elections through “forgery”.