Campaigning for four Tripura bypoll seats ended Tuesday evening. The polls are crucial considering the new chief minister, Dr Manik Saha, himself is a contestant.
Polling would start in four assembly constituencies – Agartala, Town Bardowali, Surma and Jubarajnagar – from 7am Thursday. Bypolls in these seats were necessitated owing to the resignation of two MLAs, disqualification of one and untimely death of another.
The ruling BJP appeared confident about its poll prospects. Speaking to reporters during the final phase of campaigning, Saha said he wasn’t even bothered about the Opposition and was only concerned about the weather since Tripura experienced torrential rains in recent days.
“It’s not the Opposition, rather the weather is a bigger challenge. I’m confident people of Tripura will see an incident-free election this time,” the chief minister said
Notably, there were allegations of massive poll violence during the tenure of his predecessor and former chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb.
While Saha himself said after his swearing in last month that his primary target was to maintain law and order in the state, the run up to the bypolls has not been incident-free. There have been allegations of attacks on opposition CPI(M), TMC and Congress workers. The latest in the line was a purported attack on Congress candidate and former minister Sudip Roy Barman, who accused his erstwhile protege and incumbent Information and Cultural Affairs minister Sushanta Chowdhury of leading the assault.
Talking about the incident, CM Saha said Roy Barman wasn’t attacked, and he instead accused the latter of staging a drama for political gain. However, when asked why the state police issued a statement claiming Roy Barman was wounded in the aftermath of brick-batting between BJP supporters led by minister Sushanta Chowdhury and Congress supporters led by Roy Barman himself, the chief minister said the Congress candidate staged a drama of falling down and sustained injuries in the process.
Senior BJP leaders including ICA minister Sushanta Chowdhury later expressed confidence in winning all four assembly seats and said the Congress was maintaining ‘clandestine’ links with the CPI(M) to defeat the BJP.
The BJP wrapped up its campaign trail with unique processions including one comprising ‘tom-toms’ or electric auto-rickshaws. The party’s processions were the most colourful in this election season.
Meanwhile, opposition Congress also expressed confidence of winning the bye-elections and said people have got fed up with ‘saffron violence’ in the last 4.5 years of BJP rule.
A visibly wounded Sudip Roy Barman, who was admitted at a city-based hospital right after the purported attack on him on Sunday night, was discharged Tuesday morning, and he participated in a rally during the final campaign hours.
Sudip Roy Barman and Ashish Saha took out a rally Tuesday with the former sitting along with members of his family on the back of a truck.
Sudip, who had a swollen eye and lips apart from bruises and cuts on his face, turned all teary eyed while describing the incident that left him wounded. In an oblique reference to Sushanta Chowdhury, who was said to be his protege, Sudip said: “I was attacked by my son. I’m deeply saddened and hurt.”
“I experienced more mental pain than physical. Democracy is at stake. I leave the judgement to people. I appeal to everyone to ignore fear and see to it that democracy wins. Whether I win or lose doesn’t matter but democracy can’t bow down before these hooligans,” Sudip said.
In his defence against the allegations, Sushanta Chowdhury later told media persons that Sudip Roy Barman was hand in gloves with the CPI(M) in a ploy to dislodge the BJP government in Tripura, owing to which he shifted his allegiance.
“There may be a fight against an individual, but there can’t be betrayal of the party,” Chowdhury said.
He further alleged the Congress has realised that it will lose the polls and so it staged a ‘drama’ to gain sympathy votes.
Meanwhile, the Trinamool Congress, which brought in a battery of actors and senior leaders, ended its formal campaign with actor-turned politicians Shatrughan Sinha and Mimi Chakraborty touring the state.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, TMC leaders said the bye-elections would serve as a trailer for 2023 Tripura Assembly polls as well as the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
“The BJP government… is dividing the country along social and religious lines. We do not want Tripura to be divided. My appeal is for the voters to support the Trinamool Congress as it is not just a party of the present, but also the future. Mamata Banerjee will be a game-changer in Indian politics in future,” Sinha said.
Opposition Left Front, which largely kept itself restricted to door-to-door campaigns, street corner meetings and small rallies, Tuesday wrapped up its campaign with a procession headed by its Agartala constituency candidate Krishna Majumder and Town Bardowali nominee Raghunath Sarkar, among others.
The Left is contesting the bypolls seeking “revival of democracy, fight against BJP’s alleged misrule and political violence”.
While the opposition political parties have a relatively similar agenda, there is no formal alliance or understanding between them, making the bye-elections potentially a multi-party fight.
On Tuesday evening, West Tripura district magistrate and district electoral officer Debapriya Bardhan told the media that sufficient security personnel were deployed to ensure free and fair bypolls in Agartala and Town Bardowali assembly seats under his jurisdiction.
West Tripura police superintendent J Reddy said 25 complaints of poll code violation were reported, out of which 21 were resolved. No one has been arrested yet but everyone involved in the alleged cases of violation were identified and notices were sent to them, he said.
The local administration has imposed restrictions on public movement under Section 144 of the CrPC. The restrictions came into effect from Tuesday 5pm and will be in force till 5am on June 24.
In the face of law and order concerns raised by opposition political parties, central armed police forces are being deployed in all polling stations which would undergo bypolls.
Apart from 100 per cent webcasting, expenditure monitoring teams, static surveillance teams, flying squads, and video surveillance teams would be deployed. An additional polling officer would also be deployed in this by-election to check manipulation of webcasting, among others.
Twelve companies of central security forces would be deployed at Agartala and Town Bardowali seats in Tripura apart from additional troops from the Tripura State Rifles (TSR).
Based on the criticality and vulnerability of the polling stations, one section of central security forces would be deployed in critical and vulnerable booths while four CAPF jawans would man the normal polling booths.
CEO Kiran Dinkarrao Gitte earlier assured adequate steps would be taken to ensure free and fair elections and appealed to electors to cast their mandate without fear or favour.
As per report from the CEO’s office, 1,88,854 voters including 93,567 male and 95,283 female voters are eligible to cast their votes across 221 polling stations in the four constituencies.