The alliance between the Congress and the Left Front in Tripura; where elections will be held coming Thursday (16 February), is unlikely to benefit either party.
While there are many reasons, the primary being that the two have been arch political rivals in the tiny northeastern state for decades till the dramatic emergence of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), a little over five years ago.
There still exists deep distrust and animosity between the workers and activists of the Left, primarily the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the Congress. After all, the two parties have been at daggers drawn till the 2018 elections that brought the Bharatiya Janata Party - The Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (BJP-IPFT) alliance to power.
The Congress drew a blank in the 2018 polls and the Left saw its tally reduce from 50, in 2013, to 16. Since then, the Congress suffered a steady erosion from its ranks with hundreds of leaders and workers leaving the party for the BJP and even the Trinamool Congress.
Faced with a grave existential crisis and realising that a divided opposition would make it very easy for the BJP to return to power in the state, the two entered into an understanding over sharing of seats.
Veteran CPI(M) leader and four-time chief minister, Manik Sarkar admits that the Left-Congress seat-sharing deal was spurred by “the prospect of an aggressive BJP returning to power in Tripura”. That, said Sarkar, would have further weakened the opposition.
“The seat-sharing deal (with the Left) is the only way to counter the BJP. Without the deal, the BJP would have returned to power very easily and the very existence of the opposition would then be under severe threat,” said Congress leader Sudip Roy Burman.
Roy Burman, son of former Congress chief minister Samir Ranjan Burman, started his political career with the Congress and won the Agartala Assembly seat on that party’s ticket for four consecutive terms — 1998, 2003, 2008 and 2013.
He joined the BJP in 2017 and won from the same seat on a BJP ticket in 2018, but left the party in February 2022 and returned to the Congress.
“We (Congress and Left) had to come together to save democracy and Tripura. A democracy cannot function without a strong opposition and the BJP has, over the past five years, destroyed the opposition. We are facing an existential threat from the BJP and so a pact between democratic secular forces was necessary to stop the BJP,” said an ambitious Roy Burman who left the BJP after his claim for chief ministership was unequivocally rejected by the BJP central leadership.
Both Manik Sarkar and Sudip Roy Burman indirectly admitted that the deal between their parties was an ‘opportunistic’ one devoid of any ideological underpinnings or any political morality.
The seat-sharing deal is aimed solely at attempting to prevent the BJP from returning to power since that will mean further marginalisation of both the Left and whatever little remains of the Congress in the state.
It is the opportunistic nature of the ‘deal’ that has not only failed to enthuse workers of the two parties, but also left many voters confused and even angry.
The Left is contesting in 47 seats and has left 13 seats for the Congress. While the CPI(M) has fielded candidates from 43 constituencies, the other three constituents of the Left Front — CPI, Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and Forward Bloc (FB) — are contesting from one seat each.
The Left is supporting an independent candidate, a civil rights activist, in one seat.
The deal between the Left and the Congress was preceded by a lot of acrimonious negotiations and heartburns, and left many in the Congress sorely disappointed.
The Congress wanted more than the 13 seats it was given and had even fielded candidates in four more seats before they were withdrawn following intervention by the party’s ‘high command’.
The contentious and often testy talks over seat-sharing between the leaders of the CPI(M) and the Congress rubbed off on the workers of both the parties who have a long history of gory feuds.
Tripura, like Bengal, was notorious for political violence during the decades of Congress and Left rule in the state.
“It is impossible to forget the attacks and atrocities on us by CPI(M) workers. Many Congress workers were killed, thousands driven out of their homes and deprived of livelihood, and unspeakable atrocities committed on us by bloodthirsty CPI(M) goons. We can never forget that. We cannot be suddenly asked to embrace our killers and tormentors and work together to ensure the victory of CPI(M) candidates,” said Aveek Roy Burman, a well-known Congress leader in Khayerpur seat in West Tripura district.
The Congress and the Left has, for long, been at daggers drawn in Khayerpur which had been represented by the CPI(M)’s Pabitra Kar for five successive terms since 1993, before it was wrested by BJP’s Ratan Chakraborty in 2018.
This animosity towards the CPI(M) was voiced by a large number of Congress workers and leaders in many constituencies where the CPI(M) has fielded candidates like Barjala, Majlishpur, Kamalasagar, Sonamura and Khowai Assembly seats that Swarajya visited.
CPI(M) leaders and workers at the grassroots level are also very unhappy with the seat-sharing deal in the seats left to the Congress.
A large majority of them felt the seat-sharing deal was unnecessary and the CPI(M) could have easily fought from these seats on its own. The Congress, they hold, is a “weak party without principles”.
Many CPI(M) leaders and workers; fed for decades on a diet of anti-bourgeois sentiments, told Swarajya that there is little difference between the Congress and the BJP since both parties are pro-capital and anti-worker.
“All these decades, we knew the Congress to be a reactionary and bourgeois party. How can we now go and tell our supporters to vote for the Congress candidate just because our leaders have struck a deal with the Congress?” asked Moni Bhowick, a school teacher and CPI(M) leader in Agartala.
Bhowmick, and hundreds of others like him, have kept away from canvassing on behalf of Congress candidates in the 13 constituencies that the Left has given to the Congress to contest from.
“Many of our voters will not vote for the Congress candidates. They will prefer to sit at home. They cannot bring themselves to vote for candidates of a bourgeois party we have been strongly against for so many decades,” said Sushanto Roy, a veteran CPI(M) leader at Teliamura Assembly seat in Khowai district.
CPI(M) leaders and workers in Khowai are angry that the seat has been awarded to the Congress, which is a weak force there. In the ten Assembly elections since 1967, the CPI(M) bagged this seat seven times while the Congress won it only thrice — in 1967, 1983 and in 2003.
In 2018, BJP’s Kalyani Roy wrested the seat from the CPI(M)’s Gouri Das (who had won the seat in 2008 and 2013).
While Roy got over 22,000 votes and Gouri Das got nearly 15,000 votes, the Congress candidate, Nityagopal Rudra Pal, could manage to get a measly 438 votes.
“There was no justification in giving this seat to the Congress. It has no organisation here and very few supporters. The Congress could not even field a candidate who has a decent chance of winning. We have not campaigned for the Congress candidate and will not vote for him,” said Sushanto Roy who is also a school teacher.
If CPI(M) leaders and workers are miffed with their party leadership for striking a seat-sharing deal with the Congress, Left voters are even more vexed.
“The Left and Congress are at two ends of the political pole and there can be no alliance between the two forces. Any alliance or understanding which is devoid of ideology and morality is opportunistic and cannot be supported,” Gourhari Roy Mahasai, a well-known educationist and social worker at Khowai who is open about his Left leanings, told Swarajya.
His sentiments echo across Tripura with countless Left voters expressing dismay and opposition to the opportunistic alliance struck between their party and the Congress.
The BJP has bolstered this sentiment by campaigning sharply against this ‘opportunistic alliance’. Senior BJP leaders have repeatedly lambasted the Left-Congress alliance.
“The understanding between the Left and Congress is immoral and driven by sheer opportunism. They could not even present a common manifesto or a post-election plan of action. People of Tripura have seen through their opportunism and will reject them,” Chief Minister Manik Saha told Swarajya.
“The hard campaign by the BJP against the Left-Congress deal has gone down well with the electorate. Many seem convinced that the deal is an opportunistic one,” said political analyst Surabhi Debnath.
The Left-Congress seal may, thus, boomerang on both the parties. Workers of both sides are unhappy, their respective supporters have been alienated and thus there may not be transfer of votes between the two sides.
The electorate at large have got the message (driven hard by the BJP) that the deal is a crafty one devoid of any political morality.
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