The Last Red Citadel Crumbles To Dust
Tripura election results once again proved that it is not possible to suppress the will of the people indefinitely.
The BJP has done what the Congress were unable to do in Tripura all these years – draw the curtain on Marxist rule.
Tripura was the last bastion of the Marxists (discounting Kerala that alternates between left and Congress rule). They were in power there for 25 long years since 1993. Before that, too, Tripura was ruled by the left for 10 years from 1978. The red fortress was, till even a year ago, deemed impregnable. Very few believed that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could even put up a fight in Tripura and most used to peremptorily dismiss the BJP as a marginal player in that remote northeastern state bordering Bangladesh.
But the BJP has fought valiantly against all odds and demolished the red citadel, grounding it to dust. This is not only a crushing blow to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), but a spectacular victory for the BJP. Fighting the CPI(M) is, all said and done, not like fighting any other party. The CPI(M) in Tripura, like in West Bengal earlier, was a strong cadre-based party which didn’t mind going to extreme lengths to subdue opposition. It was entrenched in Tripura and had infiltrated into and rooted itself in the state bureaucracy and the police force, which used to function more like adjuncts of the CPI(M).
For the BJP, it was a multi-pronged battle that it had to wage. Staving off the CPI(M)’s cadre was only one part of the battle. The terror tactics of the CPI(M) had benumbed the people of Tripura with fear. Workers and leaders of the Congress, which was the major Opposition force in the state till three years ago, used to be regularly beaten up, rendered homeless, and even murdered. So widespread was the fear that people would even baulk at the idea of attending rallies of Opposition leaders. To take that fear out of people’s minds and convince them that the BJP could not only stand up to, but protect the people from, the Marxist terror machinery was a huge task.
“We were also attacked many times by the CPI(M) and a few of our leaders and activists were also killed. Many sustained grievous injuries. But we didn’t give up and we fought back. Soon, people realised that we were in Tripura for keeps and we were a serious contender for power. They ultimately realised that the BJP was a viable and better alternative to the CPI(M),” said Subal Bhowmik, the vice president of the BJP in Tripura.
In the 2013 assembly polls, the BJP got just 1.54 per cent of the votes polled. The party’s candidates lost their deposits in 49 of the 50 seats they contested from. There was no party organisation worth the name and building the organisation from the grassroots was no easy task. “Initially, very few people could muster the courage to even meet me openly. But we sensed that there was a lot of anger and resentment against the CPI(M), which did nothing for the state and deliberately kept it backward and poor. I knew if we could provide a sense of protection to the people from CPI(M) goons, they would start supporting us. And that is exactly what happened,” the BJP in-charge of Tripura, Sunil Deodhar, told Swarajya.
Deodhar and his team started working from the grassroots and launched an effective campaign to enroll members. The BJP then started to highlight the myriad failures of the CPI(M). Agitations were designed around very local issues and slowly, a buzz about the BJP was created. The BJP then started offering a vision for Tripura, a game plan to take the state forward and make it prosperous, create jobs and business opportunities, and rid the people of their fear of the CPI(M).
“Our campaign was very positive and not just a negative one highlighting the failures of the CPI(M). We spoke of what we will do for Tripura. It was the first time that the people of Tripura were getting to hear about an alternative vision for the state. All these years, all that they heard from the CPI(M) were excuses for non-performance. The CPI(M) had become expert in blaming successive Union governments for the sorry state of Tripura’s finances, economy and physical infrastructure, lack of job opportunities, poor state of healthcare and education, and for all ills afflicting the state,” said state BJP spokesperson Ashok Sinha.
Like in West Bengal, where they were in power for 34 years, in Tripura too, the CPI(M) inducted only party cadre and sympathisers into the state bureaucracy and the police force. So, the entire state machinery worked for the CPI(M). Countering this biased state machinery, especially to ensure free and fair polls and a level-playing field, was no easy task. The BJP also had to counter and defeat the CPI(M)’s formidable rigging (read this article on rigging by the CPI(M)) machinery.
Deodhar’s efforts were supplemented by master strategist Himanta Biswa Sarma, the architect of the BJP’s victory in Assam in 2016. Over the last two months, Sarma visited the state every other day and since a month ago, spent days at a stretch in Tripura. The BJP general secretary in charge of the North East, Ram Madhav, also contributed immensely and stationed some from his team in Tripura. The BJP thus became a formidable and combined force and started gaining ground very fast. Smart social media campaigns were designed and catchy slogans were produced. The frequent visits of Union ministers to Tripura, their barrage of criticism of CPI(M) misgovernance, the successful visits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the state to address election rallies, and the aggressive campaign carried out by the BJP put the party in a winning position.
What also helped the BJP was its alliance with the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT). Tribals form about 31 per cent of the state’s population, and 20 assembly seats in the hill areas of the state are reserved for tribals. “The 20 seats always went to the CPI(M)’s kitty and it was said that the seats tally in Tripura always starts from 21. But the hills and the tribals there have remained most neglected and extremely poor. They were totally subjugated by the CPI(M), which would ensure their allegiance through petty rewards and a lot of terror. We took our development agenda to the hills and launched a very aggressive campaign there. Our tie-up with the IPFT helped a lot and the tribals started looking at us as a party that could change their sorry plight,” said Rampada Jamatia, the vice president of the BJP state unit.
The BJP also reached out effectively to the Other Backward Classes, who form about 30 per cent of the non-tribal population; getting Yogi Adityanath to campaign in Tripura was a masterstroke.
That the BJP could ensure that the will of the people was ultimately reflected in the poll results was an achievement in itself. “In 2013 and before that in 2008, anti-incumbency was very strong and had polls been free and fair, the CPI(M) would have lost. But the polls were rigged massively. This time too, the CPI(M) had assumed that it would be able to rig the polls. But with smart election management and the help of central security forces, the CPI(M)’s rigging machinery was defeated,” Jamatia said.
In the ultimate analysis, the election results once again proved that it is not possible to suppress the will of the people and perpetuate terror indefinitely. The demise of the Marxists in Tripura was due quite some time ago, but the Congress as the primary opposition party in the state failed miserably to harness the anger and resentment against the CPI(M). The BJP has done so with spectacular success.
Meet Sunil Deodhar, Man Behind BJP’s Sweep In Tripura
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