With by-polls scheduled to be held in four out of 60 Assembly seats in Tripura on June 23, opposition parties in the state appear divided and fractured along political lines, despite pushing similar agendas against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The BJP, on the other hand, sounds resolute and confident even amidst repeated allegations of political violence from its opponents. Though there have been several incidents of violence after Chief Minister Dr Manik Saha replaced predecessor Biplab Kumar Deb a month ago, Saha has been repeatedly stating that his focus will be on law and order, peace and development.
The saffron party has also clearly voiced its reservations against the opposition parties, saying that the Congress and CPI(M) are hand-in-glove with each other, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is trying to create unrest in the state, and Tripura ADC’s ruling TIPRA Motha party is creating a law and order situation in the hills of the state.
However, opposition parties, especially the CPI(M), TMC and Congress, have been asking voters to make sure that anti-BJP votes don’t get divided, whilst remaining divided themselves.
On June 19, Tripura Left Front convener and senior CPI(M) leader Narayan Kar appealed to voters to step out on June 23 and vote without fear, urging them to ensure that “anti-BJP” votes are not divided.
His comments are crucial in the context that among the four candidates that the Left alliance has put up are candidates who have been defeated in the past and those who have never faced a poll battle before. On the other hand, Congress dropped a candidate for one seat and fielded a rookie candidate in another, where the Left Front has a significant support base, indicating an informal understanding of sorts at play.
Kar, however, fell short of mentioning any understanding among opposition parties and maintained that the Left could challenge the BJP and asked everyone to cast their votes in its favour.
On a similar note, distancing his party from the Left and Congress, Trinamool Congress General Secretary Abhishek Banerjee said on June 20 that voting for CPI(M) or Congress would mean “wasting” the vote and asked voters to solidify anti-BJP votes in favour of TMC alone.
Alleging that the other parties were restricted to running social media campaigns, Banerjee had said the Communist parties and Congress had proven futile in resisting BJP across different states and claimed that Mamata Banerjee and TMC were the only ones who could give a tough fight to the saffron camp.
“Facebook and Twitter protests alone can’t build mass movement. We are on the streets. We are not keyboard commandos. Don’t vote for CPI(M) or Congress. It will be a waste of votes. Anti-BJP votes shouldn’t get divided,” Banerjee had said.
Meanwhile, the Congress, which did not field candidates in the Surma Assembly constituency – one of the four Assembly segments undergoing bypolls – has lent support to TIPRA Motha party, though the former does not agree with the latter’s politics of separate statehood.
Political watchers feel that while there are common grounds of opposition unity in the electoral battlefield, the parties are lacking political understanding, which perhaps has to do with their assertion of strength with the larger battle of the 2023 general assembly elections in mind.
A veteran political analyst said that while all opposition parties want the voters to get united, they are themselves divided. The paradox might be attributed to various reasons, including the spectre of Communism, which explains why no political party wants to pair with the Left.
Tripura’s political history shows the CPI(M) party allied with Congress for Democracy (CFD), formed by a breakaway faction of the then state Congress leaders, and ran a government of 115 days. A second ragtag alliance of Janata Party and CPI(M) was formed but it ran a government of 101 days. Both governments were formed in 1977. Subsequently, the Left was catapulted to power in 1978, ending non-Left prospects in government for the next one decade. A single Congress-led government, which ran from 1988-93, was followed by another 25 years of consecutive Left Front rule. Naturally, an alliance with the Left is something that all non-Left opposition parties are sceptical about.
Experts also feel that the massive anti-incumbency that threw the Manik Sarkar-led Left Front government from power in 2018 is nowhere near closure and opposition parties are sceptical of forming any formal alliance, especially since similar understandings did not pay off elsewhere, like in West Bengal.
Also, with eight months left for the general assembly elections, all parties are trying their best to assert their political presence and gain ground for the big fight and no one is in the mood to let go of precious footing for a bypoll.
Another political analyst felt that the opposition parties lacked credible faces to take on the massive BJP might that is riding on the wave of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah’s image, not to mention the homegrown politics of leaders with clean images like chief minister Saha, a dentist and professor.
So, while the opposition parties might be eager to see voters come together to cast mandate in their favour, the fractured opposition political landscape is something they can work on, especially given the fact that all of them have agreed on one thing – this bypoll will set the mood for the 2023 Assembly elections in Tripura.