Tripura polls: Can BJP win? Watch out for these 30 seats
Tripura is witnessing a fascinating contest between two powerful electoral machines - the CPI(M)-led Left Front and the Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP appears to be giving the Left its biggest scare since 1988 when Rajiv Gandhi's Congress managed to win a slender majority along with its ally in the Northeastern state.
Assam Deputy Chief Minister and NDA's North East convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma has predicted that BJP-IPFT alliance will do even better than that and win 35-40 seats in the 60-member Assembly.
But how serious are the BJP's chances really?
Though the Left Front has been undefeated 1993, the state also has a significant Opposition vote, which till now was held by the Congress and its erstwhile tribal ally, the INPT. The alliance's vote share has never been less than 40%.
The BJP-IPFT alliance hopes that the entire Opposition vote has shifted to it and this, coupled with the anti-incumbency against the Left, will catapult it to power in the state.
A look at Tripura's electoral history shows that there are 30 seats where the BJP-IPFT could pose a serious challenge to the Left Front. These seats can be divided into two, not mutually exclusive, categories: First, seats which have frequently elected non-Left MLAs since 1977. Second, seats which the Left either lost in 2013 or won by a narrow margin.
The Opposition has consistently done better in Agartala and other urban centres but failed to challenge the Left's dominance over Bengali-speaking farmers.Unemployment is a major issue among the urban youth and BJP is likely to gain because of this.
The BJP has focused much of its efforts – rallies and roadshows by top ministers and party leaders -- in the urban centres. The BJP will need to sweep urban Tripura to even have a chance of defeating the Left.Six seats in Agartala city have voted against the Left for half or more Assembly elections since held since 1977.
Banamalipur: 7 times out of 8
Bordowali: 6 times out of 8
Agartala: 5 times out of 8
Ramnagar: 5 times out of 8
Badharghat: 4 times out of 8
Barjala: 4 times out of 8
There are two other seats in Agartala – Suryamaninagar and Pratapgarh – where the Left has had a much better record. But BJP insiders are confident about these seats as well.
In addition to these, there are two towns, both situated less than 20 km from Agartala, that have often voted against the Left: Mohanpur (7 times) and Bishalgarh (4 times).
In many of these seats, BJP will also benefit from the defection of Congress MLAs such as Ratan Lal Nath from Mohanpur and Dilip Sarkar from Badharghat.
While these 8 urban seats are all in Tripura West, BJP also has a good chance in two urban seats in Tripura East: Kailashahar and Dharmanagar. Kailashahar, for instance, has elected the Congress 6 times out of 8. However, here the sitting MLA Birajit Sinha has remained loyal to the Congress.
Dharmanagar was one of the seats where BJP had a presence even before the defection of Congress leaders and workers to its side. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the part got 20% of the vote share in this Assembly segment, the best performance for it anywhere in the state.
The second set of seats which present an opportunity to the BJP are the ST reserved constituencies. Here a lot would depend on how effectively the IPFT manages to take over the entire anti-Left tribal vote of the INPT as well as make inroads into the Left's based among the indigenous communities.
There are four ST seats that have often elected non-Left MLAs since 1977:
Bagma: 5 times out of 8
Kulai: 5 times out of 8
Charilam: 4 times out of 8
Ampinagar: 4 times out of 8.
However unlike some urban seats which have remained consistently anti-Left, in tribal areas the Left’s support has grown with time. For instance in the Bagma seat mentioned above, the Left has won the last three elections while in Charilam, it has won the last four elections.
The Left has had interesting history in Tripura’s tribal seats. The CPI(M)’s first electoral toe-hold in Tripura was in the tribal areas, mainly because of the efforts of the Ganamukti Parishad. In Tripura’s first Assembly election in 1967, the Left won 3 seats, all of them reserved for STs.
In 1972, the Left won 10 ST seats, which formed a majority of their 17 MLAs in the state. In the 1970s, Left became popular among the Bengal migrant peasantry, which changed the nature of Tripura’s politics. However, this led to a partial alienation of tribals from the Left.
Over the next decade, a substantial portion of tribals organised themselves under the TUS, which managed to defeat the Left in alliance with the Congress in 1988. In that election, the alliance won 8 out of 17 tribal seats, the best pefromance in ST seats by the Opposition since 1977.
However, divisions among tribal outfits and outreach efforts by the Left changed this and 1993 onwards, the Left re-established its dominance in ST seats. The Left’s popularity in tribal areas is partly because it managed to win over the non-Debbarma landowner tribal communities such as Riyans and provide them political representation. Baju Ban Riyan, a popular tribal leader, was a Lok Sabha MP for 7 terms.
It will be an uphill task for the BJP-IPFT alliance in the ST seats as the Left has consistently won more than half of the ST seats in Tripura since 1972. In the last two elections, it won 19 out of 20 ST seats, dominating the tribal areas completely.
While these 12 urban seats and four tribal seats mentioned above would be the BJP-IPFT’s best bets, there are 14 other seats which could witness a close fight. These are seats which the Left won with a margin of less than 5% in 2013. The BJP could give Left a run for its money if it manages to consolidate the entire Opposition vote and wean away a section of the Left voters. These seats are Khayerpur, Mandaibazar, Takarjala, Sonamura, Teliamura, Matabari, Kamalpur, Ambassa, Chawamanu, Pabiachara, Pencharthal and Kanchanpur.
As Tripura votes on 18 February, watch out for these 30 seats in the state. BJP-IPFT will need to win most of these seats in order to have a chance of defeating the mighty Left Front.