The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is expecting to script history by posting its first victory from a Muslim-majority Assembly constituency this week.
By-elections to the Boxanagar Assembly constituency in Tripura’s western Sipahijala district bordering Bangladesh will be held on Tuesday (5 September).
Muslims constitute nearly 55 per cent of the electorate of this constituency, which has been a stronghold of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-CPI(M).
The by-elections have been necessitated by the death of incumbent MLA, the CPI(M)’s Samsul Haque, who died of a cardiac arrest in July this year.
Haque had defeated the BJP’s Tafajjal Hossain by a margin of more than 4,800 votes in February this year.
The BJP has fielded Tafajjal Hossain again from Boxanagar, while the CPI(M) has fielded Samsul Haque’s son Mizan Hussain. The CPI(M) candidate is being supported, albeit reluctantly, by the Congress.
The BJP’s hopes of wresting the Boxanagar seat from the CPI(M) rests on a few crucial factors, the primary among them being that the saffron party has developed deep roots in the constituency and is viewed favourably by most Muslims there.
The factors that can help the BJP bag Boxanagar are:
1. Increasing Vote Share Of The BJP
The BJP’s vote share in Muslim-majority Boxanagar has been rising steadily while the CPI(M)’s vote share has been witnessing a steady decline.
The vote share of BJP’s Tafajjal Hossain in the Assembly elections held earlier this year was 37.76 per cent, while that of the victorious CPI(M) candidate, Samsul Haque, was 50.34 per cent.
The CPI(M)’s vote share in the elections held in February this year saw a sharp decline of 7.42 per cent from its score in the 2018 Assembly polls when its candidate, Sahid Choudhury, got 57.76 per cent of votes.
The BJP’s Baharul Islam Majumder had got 34.45 per cent of the votes in the 2018 elections. That in itself was a sharp rise in the BJP’s vote share in Boxanagar as compared to the 2013 Assembly elections when its candidate, Mantu Sarkar, polled only 460 votes. Sarkar’s vote share was a miniscule 1.43 per cent.
BJP state president Rajeev Bhattacharyya told Swarajya: “People of Boxanagar, including our Muslim brothers and sisters there, have realised that the BJP does not discriminate against anyone and works for everyone’s development. So we are sure of winning Boxanagar this time.”
2. Popularity Of The BJP Candidate
Tafajjul Hossain is popular in Boxanagar. He has worked among the people there for many years and is widely perceived to be the ‘go to’ person, whose doors are always open for those who seek his help in getting documents verified, secure admissions in schools, getting medical treatment and also jobs or loans from banks.
Mirajul Sheikh, general secretary of the Sepahijala Muslim Welfare Society, told Swarajya: “Though he (Tofajjul Hossain) faced defeat in the February Assembly elections, he never abandoned the constituency and has been nursing it diligently. He is always there for anyone who needs help. People like him. He has a large fan following among the youth.”
In contrast, the CPI(M) candidate, Mizan Hossain, is a lightweight and lacks grassroots connect. His only qualification is that he is the son of Samsul Haque (the incumbent MLA who passed away).
Mizan and the CPI(M) are banking on the sympathy factor (generated by Haque’s death), but there isn’t much evidence of that at the ground level.
3. Tribal Support
The tribal (TMP) has extended unofficial support to the BJP. Tribals constitute nearly 8 per cent of the electorate of Boxanagar.
In the elections held in February this year, the TMP fielded Abu Khayer Miah who got 7.81 per cent of the votes. That roughly corresponds to the share of tribal votes in the constituency.
The TMP has not fielded any candidate this time and has said it will remain neutral. But Motha leaders have been asking the tribals to vote for the BJP candidate.
Abu Khayer Miah (the TMP candidate in the Assembly polls earlier this year) is openly canvassing for the BJP candidate. Though he has been officially suspended from the party, many believe it is just hogwash and he has the blessings of his party leadership.
TMP’s founding member and scion of the Tripura royal family, , has been holding talks with Union Home Minister Amit Shah to find a political solution to the demand of the tribals of the state.
Deb Barma said recently that the CPI(M) had announced its candidate for Boxanagar unilaterally and, hence, does not deserve the Motha’s support.
4. Congress-CPI(M) Rivalry
The Congress, though it is officially backing the CPI(M)’s Mizan Hussain, is not happy at all with the Marxists.
Congress leaders hold a grudge against the CPI(M) for announcing its candidate unilaterally without consulting the Congress.
Veteran Congress leader and Agartala MLA Sudip Roy Barman complained bitterly against the CPI(M)’s “unilateralism” recently.
Also, the Congress and the CPI(M) have been bitter rivals in Boxanagar till the advent of the BJP. The Congress won this seat in 1972, 1988 and 1998 while the CPI(M) bagged Boxanagar in 1977, 1983, 1993 and for six terms since 2003.
Moreover, Billal Mia, who won Boxanagar on Congress ticket in 1988 and 1998, and was the Congress working president in Tripura, joined the BJP very recently. A huge number of Congress workers followed in his footsteps, thus strengthening the BJP.
Congress leaders admit that given the bitter rivalry between the Congress and the CPI(M), and the fact that Congress workers and supporters have suffered at the hands of the CPI(M) during Left rule in the state, it will be extremely difficult to get Congress votes transferred to the CPI(M) candidate.
By-Elections To Dhanpur Assembly Constituency
By-elections will also be held for the Dhanpur Assembly seat this week.
But this seat is expected to be a cakewalk for the BJP. The by-elections here have been necessitated by the resignation of Pratima Bhoumik, who wrested the seat from the CPI(M) in the elections held in February this year.
Bhoumik, the Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment, resigned in order to retain her Tripura West Lok Sabha seat.
Dhanpur had been a CPI(M) bastion since 1972 — the Marxists won the seat ten consecutive times between 1972 and 2018.
Manik Sarkar, the four-time chief minister of the state, had represented Dhanpur for 25 years from 1998. He had defeated Pratima Bhoumik in the 2018 Assembly elections (which brought the BJP to power in the state) by a margin of nearly 5,500 votes.
But in the Assembly elections held earlier this year, Bhoumik defeated the CPI(M) candidate, Kaushik Chanda, by 3,500 votes.
The Tipra Motha Party (TMP), which contested the Assembly elections from Dhanpur earlier this year and garnered a vote share of 19.13 per cent, is not in the fray this time.
And in Dhanpur, too, the Motha has unofficially extended support to the BJP’s Bindu Debnath, a loyalist of Pratima Bhoumik. Tribals constitute over 14 per cent of the population of Dhanpur.
Also, as in Boxanagar, though the Congress is officially backing the CPI(M) candidate Kaushik Chanda, the two parties have a history of bitter rivalry. That’s why the transfer of Congress votes to the CPI(M) seems unlikely.
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