Saffron Sweep In Tripura Is A Setback For Trinamool, But BJP Cannot Afford To Rest On Its Laurels

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Nov 29, 2021 05:29 AM
Saffron Sweep In Tripura Is A Setback For Trinamool, But BJP Cannot Afford To Rest On Its Laurels Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb. (Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • The electoral setback in Tripura is not likely to deter Mamata Banerjee, who is desperate to increase her party's footprints beyond Bengal.

    The BJP cannot afford to let its guard down.

The clean sweep posted by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Tripura civic polls came as a blow to the Trinamool, especially its chief Mamata Banerjee and her nephew Abhishek who personally led his party’s aggressive outreach in the northeastern state.

The BJP’s victory was humiliating for the Trinamool, which managed to win just one of the 222 seats for which elections were held last week.

The Trinamool’s excuse about the BJP using threats, intimidation and violence to rig the polls sounds hollow. And extremely ironical, too, since it stands accused of attacking, maiming, murdering and raping hundreds of BJP workers and supporters in Bengal over the past two years.

Of the 334 seats in the Agartala Municipal Corporation, 13 municipalities and six nagar panchayats across the state, the BJP won 112 uncontested. The BJP won all 51 seats of the Agartala Municipal Corporation and won landslide victories in the other rural bodies as well.

Apart from the Trinamool, which won just one seat in Ambassa Municipal Council (it had fielded 119 candidates all over the state), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M) won three seats in the Kailashahar and Ambassa municipalities and Panisagar Nagar Panchayat of the 215 that it contested.

The tribal-focused TIPRA Motha led by erstwhile royal Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barma won just one seat in the Ambassa Municipal Council.

The Trinamool, though, managed to get a 20.66 per cent vote share against the CPI(M)’s 18.47 per cent. The Trinamool found solace in this and Abhishek Banerjee trumpeted it as a major victory for the party.

Abhishek tweeted after the results that the Trinamool has emerged as the principal opposition party in the state displacing the CPI(M) despite having forayed into Tripura just three months ago.

But that contention does not hold ground. Going simply by vote share, that too in civic polls, can be quite misleading. The CPI(M) has the infrastructure and still retains a loyal support base in Tripura. A section, albeit a small one, of Tripura’s electorate is still adherents of communism and loyal to the CPI(M). The CPI(M) has a strong organisational base in the state.

But the results of the civic polls have shown that the Trinamool has completely displaced the Congress, which failed to win even one seat.

What Abhishek Banerjee failed to acknowledge was that a party needs to be built from the grassroots; getting defectors from other parties cannot supplement a sustained effort to reach out to the electorate and win their support.

The Trinamool, of course, suffers from an inherent shortcoming on this count since it does not have a well-defined ideology, policy or vision to sell to the electorate. Even in Bengal, the Trinamool relies on its populism (which is, however, no substitute for ideology) to win elections since it does not have any ideology or vision.

Incidentally, the Trinamool committed the same grave mistake in Tripura that the BJP did in Bengal. It flooded Tripura with ‘outsiders’ — politicians from Bengal — and that harmed the party. A galaxy of top leaders, as well as cadres, of the Trinamool stationed themselves in the tiny northeastern state for weeks and carried out an aggressive campaign against the BJP.

That helped the BJP cast Trinamool as a party of outsiders. The Trinamool’s high-decibel campaign against the BJP and targeting Chief Minister Biplab Deb also did not go down well with the electorate.

The BJP was quick to dub the Trinamool’s offensive as a defamation campaign against Tripura and its people.

Also, the Trinamool could win over any leader of consequence from other parties in the state. Its biggest catch was Subal Bhowmik, who became the face of the party in the state. Bhowmik has been a political itinerant who has had stints in all the parties and had even become a brahmachari once. As such, he has zero credibility in Tripura.

The Trinamool also relied heavily on new entrant Sushmita Dev, daughter of former Assam strongman Santosh Mohan Dev, from Barak Valley (which neighbours Tripura) to spearhead the party’s offensive in the state.

However, even though she is from neighbouring Barak Valley (Assam), she is still an ‘outsider’ in Tripura. The Trinamool made concerted efforts to win over senior BJP leaders, but failed completely.

The Trinamool was quite confident of weaning away Congress-turned-BJP leader Sudip Roy Burman, son of former Tripura chief minister Samir Ranjan Burman, from the BJP. Sudip, who was inducted as health minister when the BJP came to power in Tripura in 2018, was sacked after he revolted against Chief Minister Biplab Deb.

Sudip also managed to get a few more disgruntled BJP MLAs into his camp. But the BJP acted swiftly and stemmed that revolt by winning back the other dissident MLAs. Sudip was left completely isolated. BJP managers worked on him as well to dissuade him from crossing over to the Trinamool.

Sudip, an astute politician, also realised that the Trinamool’s electoral prospects in the state were quite dismal and, thus, refrained from joining that party.

The BJP, however, can ill afford to rest on its laurels. The party has to make Chief Minister Biplab Deb deliver on the unfulfilled electoral promises and improve on governance.

Biplab Deb has to start delivering now and the party’s central leadership should immediately deploy observers to oversee the functioning of the government in the state.

The electoral setback in Tripura is not likely to deter Mamata Banerjee, who is desperate to increase her party's footprints beyond Bengal. The Trinamool will keep up the aggression in Tripura and will try to position itself as a prime challenger to the BJP in the state.

The BJP cannot afford to let its guard down and allow the Trinamool any leeway. The BJP central leadership has to do some hand-holding of the Biplab Deb government in Tripura in order to ensure that highly visible and high-impact projects in the infrastructure, employment-generation and social sectors are undertaken and executed speedily and transparently in the state.

The focus for the BJP in Tripura now has to be on good governance and swift implementation of infrastructure and welfare projects. The assembly elections are just about 15 months away and the time to start acting is now.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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