Tripura 2023: BJP Back With IPFT, Left Allying With Congress, And The 'Unknown' That Is Tipra Motha
The BJP appears a confident unit since 28 January, when it engineered a recovery by tying up with the IPFT once more.
How much of a challenge will the Left-Congress alliance pose, and how much ground support will the Tipra Motha really command?
Throughout January, the buzz in Tripura was that the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Chief Minister Manik Saha were firmly on the backfoot, as they geared up for the assembly elections of 16 February.
On the face of it, the buzz-makers didn’t seem to be too far off the mark. After all, the BJP was forced to replace Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb with Saha in May 2022.
The BJP’s sole ally, the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT), decided to break the alliance late last year. A third front rose in the tribal tracts — the Tiphra Motha led by a Tripura royal. And the Communists formally tied up with the Congress.
There was even talk that the IPFT might merge with the Tiphra Motha.
So, the BJP faced anti-incumbency, a united opposition, the loss of an important ally, and a third force in the twenty tribal seats.
Then, on 28 January, the BJP engineered a brilliant recovery by tying up with the IPFT once more. The BJP would contest 55 seats, and the IPFT the balance five. All of a sudden, the shoe was firmly on the other foot.
The Tiphra Motha’s founder, Pradyot Bikram Manikya DebBarma, was reduced to dejectedly tweeting that the IPFT had stopped answering his calls.
This surprising, and unexpected, resurrection of a BJP-IPFT alliance also upset the Left-Congress’s calculations, as they were still in the process of finalizing seat-sharing agreements.
While details are still unclear, it appears that the return of the IPFT to the BJP fold was forced by a few reasons.
One, the IPFT’s founder, NC Debbarma, passed away on 1 January. Two, the party was rattled by the subsequent departure of their cadres to the Tipra Motha. And, three, the central government awarded a Padma Shri to the IPFT’s founder posthumously, in the Republic Day honours list.
This was bad news for the opposition. The Congress had been eyeing 17 seats as a plank to commence a recovery from, after they were wiped out in the 2018 assembly elections (nil seats and 1.8 per cent of the vote share).
Of these 17 seats, the BJP won 16 with an average vote share of 58 per cent, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the CPM, won one in a rare three-way contest; the Congress got just 2 per cent.
That figure of 17 has since reduced to 13, of which, the BJP won 12 in 2018, and the CPM, one. Thus, while the final figures will crystallize only after 2 February, the last date for the withdrawal of nominations, the Left front will contest 46 seats (CPM 43), the Congress, 13, and an independent candidate has been proposed for 7-Ramnagar general seat.
Now that the BJP-IPFT alliance is on again, the Left front and the Congress are busy trying to ensure that they don’t cut into each other’s votes, and the Tiphra Motha has been largely isolated, what does the electoral math look like?
If we compare the BJP-IPFT’s seat sharing agreements of 2018 with the current one, we see that of the 60 seats, the IPFT contested nine seats reserved for tribals in 2018, winning eight; they will contest only five this time.
The IPFT won four of these five seats in 2018. The change is 38-Jolaibari, where the CPM beat the BJP by a narrow margin in an intensely bipolar contest.
To recap, the results of the 2013 and 2018 assembly elections are given in a table and maps below:
To gauge the impact of a Left-Congress alliance, their 2018 vote shares were added together. This aggregate was then subtracted from the BJP-IPFT’s vote share.
Below is the vote-difference map.
Note: Blues denote BJP-IPFT leads, and reds, the Left-Congress combine.
In 2018, the Left led in 16 seats. The Congress got more than two per cent of the vote in only six seats. Yet, we see that the combined opposition still leads in only 17 seats.
This is not surprising, since the BJP-IPFT got more than 50 per cent in 33 seats. It shows how robust their alliance was, and how dominant, the mandate they received.
As a result, the Communists and the Congress are so desperate, and disorganized, that they have even buried the hatchet with the Maoists, the CPI (ML). The latter have decided to vacate the fray in 59 seats, leaving a token representative in just one.
To emphasise: the Congress is hand in glove with the Maoists once again.
This is the exact same problem we’ve seen in some other states — existential despair forces mainstream opposition political parties to ally with extremist outfits. As a result, their survival is predicated on the revitalization of anarchism. It is not a healthy devolution, but it is what it is.
At least, it aids us in understanding why there is so much bonhomie between the Congress and the ultra-left tukde-tukde crowd, and how sorts like Jignesh Mewani fit so seamlessly into the national party’s framework.
One unknown in Tripura, is the extent to which the Tipra Motha might cut into the BJP’s votes. This uncertainty is further compounded by recent, self-contradictory statements from Tipra leader Pradyot DebBarma.
On the one hand, he says that he would rather sit in opposition, alone, than compromise on his political aims by allying with others.
On the other hand, in the same interview, DebBarma says that the Congress cannot be an adversary: “I have a soft corner for Rahul and Priyanka. In a sense I am the real Congress in Tripura”.
Yet, at the same time, his outfit is contesting 42 seats.
Rather than lose our minds over such Alice-in-wonderland intellectualism, Occam’s razor suggests that the Tipra has a tacit understanding with the opposition, and will try to cut votes from only the BJP, to aid the Congress and Communists.
It is, therefore, doubtful if the Tipra will make any material gains.
Thus, in conclusion, the BJP seems battle ready, and have a good chance of securing a renewed mandate from the people of Tripura.
(The first two parts of our electoral analysis series on Tripura can be read here, and here).
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