Tripura 2023: From BJP’s Rise in 2018 to CPM-INC Alliance
The election results, due on 2nd March 2023 will be an interesting development for all major parties in the fray but most importantly for the BJP, in Tripura and beyond, setting the stage for the party’s expansion in the northeast region.
Elections to nine states in India are scheduled to be held in 2023 and the electoral results in these states will be crucial to the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections. After Tripura, which is the first state which goes to polls in 2023, the elections will be held in Meghalaya, Nagaland, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram. These states constitute a combined total of 116 Lok Sabha seats. In Tripura, voting was held on 16th February, and the election results are due on 2nd March.
Assembly Elections in 2023 are especially crucial for the BJP as they will set the tone for the Lok Sabha elections next year. Starting with Tripura, the state was the second in the northeast after Assam where the party was able to form a government independently. Moreover, if the party fails to repeat its 2018 performance in Tripura, it might create a negative start for the party’s campaign for other Assembly polls in the region. However, if the BJP succeeds, the opposition’s campaign against PM Modi will likely take a hit, strengthening the claim that he has the support of the people of the country.
From Congress Stronghold to Left Bastion and BJP
Since the formation of the state of Tripura in 1972 up till 2013, there was a direct contest for power between the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) and the Indian National Congress (INC). In 2018, the BJP defeated the CPM with a two-thirds majority, a party in power in the state for 25 consecutive years. This was the BJP’s second big win in a northeastern state after Assam in 2016. Though the BJP has been contesting in the Tripura elections for several years, it had only managed to gain a 1–1.5 per cent vote share without winning a single seat.
The 2023 Assembly elections bring an altogether challenge as new equations have emerged since the last elections. The Left Parties and the INC, in constant battle with each other for several decades, have come together to contest in an alliance in order to defeat the BJP. The Mamata Banerjee-led All India Trinamool Congress is also contesting from 28 seats. An interesting addition to the contest is Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barma, the founder of Tipra Motha and a descendant of the tribal king Kirit Bikram who holds a great influence among the tribals. Though he isn’t contesting himself, his party members are contesting from various seats in Tripura.
An Unexpected Feat: BJP’s 2018 Victory
After nearly two decades of CPM rule from 1993, the Trinamool Congress was projected as a possible alternative to the CPM in Tripura when Mamata Banerjee became the Chief Minister of West Bengal in 2011. With the TMC’s failure to make any significant inroads in the state, the CPM remained in power till 2018. The BJP, taking advantage of the strong anti-incumbency against the Left government and the people’s search for an alternative wrestled power from the Left.
Taking advantage of this grassroots political equation, the BJP included influential leaders of other parties under its wing, which helped the party immensely in 2018. By joining hands with other influential leaders such as Sudip Roy Barman, the son of the last tribal king, Raja Pradyot Bikram. An influential Congress leader, Sudip Roy Barman, was inducted into the BJP before the 2018 elections. He won five consecutive MLA elections since 1998 from the Agartala constituency on Congress tickets, and with Barman’s political influence, the BJP was able to garner a share of the Congress electorate. In a major blow to the BJP in the region, in February 2022 Barman resigned from the party and is back in the Congress now. Additionally, for the 2018 elections, the BJP had tied up with IPFT, which had a great influence among the Scheduled Tribes population.
These factors enabled the BJP to garner support from the tribal populace and smaller state parties in order to be seen as an alternative to the 25 years of CPM rule. This support gave an unexpected win to the BJP, securing 35 of the 51 seats it contested. The CPM was reduced from 49 seats it held in 2013 to mere 16 seats in 2018 from the 57 seats it contested. The widespread support from multiple corners allowed the BJP to oust the CPM.
While the CPM suffered a major blow in terms of seat share loss, the party was just shy of the BJP by 1.37 per cent in terms of vote share. However, its vote share decreased by nearly 6 percentage points from 48 to 42.2 per cent. The Congress, which managed 36 per cent of the votes and 10 seats in 2013, failed to win any seat in 2018, capturing just 1.79 per cent of the votes.
On Scheduled Tribe reserved seats, backed by the IPFT and the royal family under Pradyot Bikram, the NDA won 18 out of 20 seats. The IPFT, having a significant influence among the Scheduled Tribes, was given 9 of the 10 ST seats in the alliance and won 8 of those seats with a 7.38 per cent vote share. The former Congress leader Sudip Roy Barman helped the party win 8 of the 10 reserved seats with the influence he wielded in the SC-dominated areas.
From Big Rallies to Small Meetings: Campaigning For Tripura
In the run-up to the 2023 elections, Tripura witnessed a mix of mega rallies and small meetings from leaders across political parties. The BJP’s campaign strategy is centred around mega rallies by star campaigners like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, and Party National President JP Nadda. Rallies and meetings led by Tipra Motha founder Raja Pradyot Bikram attracted huge crowds, especially in tribal areas but the party also conducted several small meetings especially in tribal dominated regions.
As per analysts, even though the Prime Minister denounces the opposition for using the ‘Rewari’ culture, the BJP seemed to be using the same pitch in its campaigning in Tripura. In his rallies, Amit Shah has talked about providing scooty to college going girls alongside many other direct benefits.
Unlike in 2018, when the BJP enjoyed significant influence on the 20 Scheduled Tribe (ST) seats winning 18, the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT) this time is turning into a weak link in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Further, the support for Adivasi Raja Pradyot Bikram’s Tipra Motha on ST seats is also likely to be harmful to the BJP.
Moreover, in spite of putting all its powers visible in the big rallies led by top leaders, the popularity of the Prime Minister and the party government’s welfare schemes in the centre and the state, the BJP lacks the momentum that was evident in 2018. The Congress-Left alliance, Tipra Motha Party, and the Trinamool Congress are all contesting against the BJP on different seats. Analysing the current political scenario and the previous election results, many equations seem possible, and if the Modi factor helps mobilise the tribals, unexpected results can be witnessed, much like in 2018.
Left and Congress: From Contenders to Allies
From being in direct conflict in the state for decades, the CPM and the Congress have allied for the 2023 Elections with the common goal of toppling the BJP government in the state.
In the 2013 Assembly Elections, the CPM had secured 48.11 per cent of the vote share and won 49 seats, while the Congress had won only 10 seats with 36.53 per cent of the vote share. The Congress, precariously placed in the entire country, faced a major decline in 2018 in Tripura. Its vote share came down to a mere 1.79 per cent with no seats won. The magnitude of its loss is evident in the fact that it had to forfeit its deposits in 58 of the 59 constituencies it contested in.
The CPM-Congress alliance for the 2023 Assembly elections witnessed the CPM contesting elections in 43 seats with the Congress contesting 13. On the remaining 4 seats, candidates were filled by smaller allies, the Communist Party of India, the Revolutionary Socialist Party, All India Forward Bloc and an independent. The return of the influential leader Sudip Roy Barman, back to the Congress fold from the BJP in February 2022 has also bolstered this alliance. However, a noticeable shortcoming is that the alliance is more visible among the top leaders and less among the party workers on the ground. Both the CPM and Congress workers expressed unwillingness to be seen together due to their history of direct competition in the state for quite some time. This lack of coordination can potentially benefit the BJP.
The Trinamool Congress, led by Mamata Banerjee, ousted the Communists from West Bengal after their 34 years in power and has been winning the elections three times in a row since. But the party failed to become an alternative to the CPM in Tripura, with an abysmal 0.3% vote share captured in 2018. Instead, the BJP uprooted it from power, ending its 28-year-long reign. For the 2023 Assembly Elections, TMC has decided to contest from 28 seats, and it remains to be seen how, and if, the results differ from 2018.
Can the BJP repeat its 2018 victory in 2023?
The 2023 Tripura elections have thrown open an unexpected challenge for the incumbent BJP. To repeat its 2018 victory, the BJP has put out all its strength. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accompanied by a plethora of top party leaders held regular meetings and roadshows in the state. The political dynamics that helped the party win in 2018 have changed significantly this time around. CPM and INC’s decades-long face-off benefited the BJP in 2018. However, both parties have now come together to challenge the incumbent BJP. Whether the political alliance will be able to convert into support on the ground for each other’s candidates remains to be seen.
Interestingly, the BJP’s biggest challenge at present is turning out to be the newly formed Tipra Motha Party of Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barma, also known as ‘Adivasi Raja’. He holds significant influence among the Scheduled Tribes and their 20 seats. He is also respected as a deity and garners the support of tribal women in huge numbers.
In 2018, Barma extended support to the BJP from the outside, facilitating its win in tribal-dominated regions. This time, Barma’s political outfit Tipra Motha is in a direct challenge with the BJP on several seats. The party has fielded candidates from 42 seats including 20 ST seats and six SC seats. Owing to Bikram’s Bengali origin, the party is likely to benefit from the voters of other castes and religions, apart from SC and ST.
The Motha Party’s campaign strategy this time has revolved around the promises made by the BJP in 2018. On several occasions, the Adivasi king launched a direct attack on the BJP over the promises made by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah, saying that he comes from Delhi and makes big promises but none of them has been fulfilled as of yet. He alleged that many promises made by the BJP such as more jobs, smartphones, and more powers to the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council were not delivered. He added that Tripura also demands the creation of a new state called Greater Tipra Land under Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution of India, for the purpose of tribal welfare. The slogan of the Tipra Motha is- ‘Puila Jati, Ulobo Jati” and “Puila Jati, Ulo Party” meaning community first, party later.
The TMC’s presence on several seats is also likely to break votes away from the BJP. Tipra Motha’s influence has pitted the BJP alliance and the Congress-CPM alliance in the midst of a three-way fight on many seats.
NDA: BJP + IPFT Magic Again?
In a swift turn of events, the widespread support enjoyed by the BJP by leveraging the influence that “Adivasi Raja’’ and the regional parties have over the STs and SCs of the state has become the new challenge for the BJP in 2023. Tipra Motha’s presence in the electoral fray coupled with the CPM-INC alliance might make it difficult for the BJP to repeat its two-thirds majority in 2018.
Although the BJP is continuing the old coalition with IPFT which won 8 ST seats in 2018, the seat-sharing pact is different this time with the IPFT contesting on five seats instead of nine and the BJP contesting on 55 seats. This may dampen the influence of the alliance among the Scheduled Tribes, which comprise nearly 70 per cent of the population.
Notably, although Tripura has a Muslim population of only eight per cent and the ‘Hindu-Muslim’ factor is not in play in the state, the BJP has fielded two Muslim candidates, Taffazal Hossain from Boxanagar and Moboshar Ali from Kailashahar. This is believed to be a part of the Prime Minister’s strategy to include the Pasmanda Muslims, which was discussed in the National Executive meeting of the party in July 2022. If this experiment is successful, the BJP can field Muslim candidates in other states of the country as well, and it could also significantly improve its performance in the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Amidst the continuing support for “Adivasi Raja” and his demand for a separate state called Greater Tipraland, the BJP’s biggest strength is the appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the welfare schemes introduced by him for the poor, especially among the tribals who are impressed by the reach of those schemes. The BJP has also been successful in connecting resources and small leaders at the local level, while the Congress-Left alliance is uncoordinated at this level. The election results, due on 2nd March 2023 will be an interesting development for all major parties in the fray but most importantly for the BJP, in Tripura and beyond, setting the stage for the party’s expansion in the northeast region.
Polstrat Research Team and Urid Media / New Delhi
From Polstrat, a non-partisan political consultancy which aims to shift the narrative of political discourse in the country from a problem-centric to a solutions-oriented approach.
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