How BJP Has Driven Itself Into A Mess In Tripura And Risks Losing The Plot To Mamata Banerjee In State

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Nov 24, 2021 11:46 AM
How BJP Has Driven Itself Into A Mess In Tripura And Risks Losing The Plot To Mamata Banerjee In StateTripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb (Biplab Kumar Deb/Twitter)
Snapshot
  • The BJP in Tripura has been ham-handed in its approach towards the Trinamool, which declared its intent to foray into the northeastern state after its landslide victory in the Assembly elections in Bengal.

The BJP has driven itself into a mess in Tripura. And that has allowed an aggressive Trinamool Congress to hog the limelight and lay down a damaging narrative that casts the saffron party in a poor light.

In its zeal to beat the Trinamool with the same stick that it has been getting beaten with in Bengal, the BJP in Tripura adopted an aggressive stance against the Trinamool in order to thwart Mamata Banerjee’s attempts to get a foothold in the tiny northeastern state.

The BJP in Tripura has been combative over the past few months in denying the Trinamool any political space. Of course, the BJP does not stand accused of killing, maiming, raping and assaulting Trinamool workers and supporters, or driving them away from their homes, like the Trinamool has done to BJP workers in Bengal. Even so, the Trinamool has succeeded in casting itself as a victim, albeit a defiant one, in Tripura.

The BJP in Tripura has been ham-handed in its approach towards the Trinamool, which declared its intent to foray into the northeastern state after its landslide victory in the Assembly elections in Bengal.

Despite deploying considerable resources and manpower, including many of its top-rung leaders and even Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek, the Trinamool could not make much of an impact in Tripura initially. It could only induct some inconsequential politicians from the Congress and gather together a bunch of rejects from other parties. The BJP, which is in an unassailable position in Tripura, should have simply sat by and watched the Trinamool expend its resources in that state. The Trinamool did not pose even a minimal threat to the saffron party initially.

But instead of doing that, the BJP went on the offensive against the Trinamool and, in the process, overplayed its hand. The BJP’s aggression towards the Trinamool helped the latter to not only cast itself as the victim, but also craft a narrative that the BJP is scared of it (the Trinamool) in that state.

The Trinamool, thus, not only gained public sympathy as a victim of BJP’s strong-arm tactics in Tripura, but also managed to occupy a substantial segment of the opposition space in that state.

What the BJP also miscalculated was the response of the people of the state to political violence. Unlike Bengal where violence has been an integral part of the political landscape since the early 1970s when the communists were on the rise, such violence is not the norm in Tripura.

Yes, the long rule of the CPI(M) in Tripura was marked by sporadic violence and intimidation of opposition cadres and supporters. But that has mostly been low-key and isolated. Tripura had also witnessed a lot of violence over two decades of tribal insurgency since the 1990s.

That chapter of tribal insurgency and counter-insurgency is like a nightmare for the people of Tripura and its memories evoke feelings of fear and loathing. The recent political violence in the state brought back memories of those dark decades.

And that is why many in Tripura have started developing antipathy towards the BJP for taking their state down that road. Political violence is largely alien to Tripura and the people of the state are angry with the BJP for introducing this culture to the state.

That is why the rebel BJP legislator Sudip Roy Burman’s outburst against political violence (he blamed some BJP leaders, including chief minister Biplab Deb for it) has evoked wide endorsement from even the man on the street.

Privately, some BJP leaders agree that aggression against the Trinamool was quite unnecessary and that the BJP’s public image has suffered.

The BJP has also been indiscreet in dealing with the Trinamool in Tripura.

The repeated denial of permission to Trinamool leaders to hold rallies and roadshows, and the recent arrest of Trinamool youth leader Saayoni Ghosh, were completely unnecessary.

All this helped the Trinamool craft a narrative that the BJP is scared of the Trinamool’s growing clout in Tripura. This narrative, which is gaining ground, has led to the Trinamool slowly winning the perception battle in Tripura.

The BJP would have been well-advised to leave the Trinamool to its own devices in Tripura and sit back and watch Mamata Banerjee falter there. Not doing so has cost the party considerable political capital and helped the Trinamool by default.

There’s a valuable lesson that the BJP needs to learn from here. And that is Mamata Banerjee’s, and her party’s, response to BJP’s aggression in Tripura. Trinamool upped the ante against the BJP and did exactly what the BJP shied away from or failed to do during the post-poll violence in Bengal.

Top Trinamool leaders rushed to Tripura to stand beside party workers and local functionaries. The Trinamool took the judicial route and approached the Supreme Court. That garnered a lot of publicity for the party.

Simultaneously, Trinamool MPs created a din in New Delhi and even staged a dharna in front of North Block (housing the MHA) before the Union Home Minister relented and granted them an appointment where they complained against the minor cuts and cruises Trinamool workers suffered in Tripura.

There is no record of Amit Shah reminding the Trinamool MPs who met him at his residence Monday afternoon about the horrific violence--murders, rapes etc---perpetrated by the Trinamool on BJP workers and supporters in Bengal. Shah ought to have reminded the Trinamool MPs that compared to the bloodshed in Bengal, the incidents in Tripura are not even worth a mention.

And after that, the BJP ought to have made public such a reprimand by the Union Home Minister. That would have shifted the focus on violence against BJP workers in Bengal and forced a comparison between the minor incidents in Tripura and the persecution of BJP workers in Bengal. And that would have put the Trinamool on the defensive.

Failure to do so has worked to the Trinamool’s advantage and only emboldened Mamata Banerjee and her party. They now know that the BJP will cower before their aggression and that when it comes to a fight, the saffron party cannot muster the requisite resolve and courage to meet the Trinamool challenge.

This is not to say that the BJP will not fare well in Thursday’s civic polls in Tripura. The saffron party has already won 112 of the 334 seats in 13 municipal bodies, six nagar panchayats and the 51 wards of the Agartala Municipal Corporation uncontested.

The BJP is expected to win a majority of 222 seats where elections will be held Thursday. But that should not lull the party into complacence. Far from being dejected by a defeat, the Trinamool is sure to get more aggressive in Tripura.

The BJP needs to immediately put its house in order and not only tackle dissidence, but also concentrate on development. The performance of the Biplab Deb government in the state has been lacklustre and many election promises remain unfulfilled. Deb is perceived to be inept and a political greenhorn with a propensity to put his foot in his mouth.

The BJP needs to ask Deb to buckle up and deliver, and stop from making ludicrous statements. At the same time, the BJP should resist the urge to act aggressively towards the Trinamool because doing so would only provide the much-needed publicity to Mamata Banerjee’s party.

The BJP needs to play its cards discreetly and with a lot of finesse in Tripura. Its success, or failure, to do so will dictate the outcome of the Assembly elections in that state 15 months from now.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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