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Tripura civic polls a litmus test for BJP, Left and Trinamool

 
By Sujit Chakraborty
Agartala, Nov 23 (IANS) Around 14 months before the assembly elections, the civic bodies polls in Tripura on Thursday would be an acid test for three political parties -- the ruling BJP, the main opposition CPI-M led Left and new player Trinamool Congress, while the Congress is turning out to be a nonentity.


After Tripura become a full-fledged state around 50 years ago, the CPI-M led Left Front governed the state for 35 years (1978-1988 and 1993-2018) and the Congress and allied parties ruled for the remaining period. Since 2018, the BJP became the main political force with the Trinamool Congress (TMC) of late trying to set up bases there, leading to a multi-cornered contest in the upcoming civic and assembly polls.

In view of the reported political violence and stepping up of activities of the TMC during the past three months, Thursday's elections to the 51-seat Agartala Municipal Corporation (AMC) and 19 other civic bodies across Tripura attracted national attention besides intervention by the Supreme Court, Tripura High Court, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP's National President J. P. Nadda.

After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the first time wrested power in Tripura in March 2018 and the rise of the new tribal based political party Tiprahaa Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA) led by Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barman earlier this year, the two main traditional political forces -- the Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Congress -- are gradually dwindling.

Both the Left and the Congress performed poorly in the last Lok Sabha polls in 2019, the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council in 2021 and the three-tier Gram Panchayat elections in 2019, though the opposition parties alleged "large scale rigging and malpractices by the ruling party".

In Thursday's elections, around six lakh urban voters out of the state's total electorate of 27 lakh, are eligible to vote. The political significance of the outcome of these civic polls is forcing all the parties to put in maximum efforts to win.

There are seven assembly constituencies, all held by the BJP, which come under the 150-year-old AMC.

The TMC led by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has now targeted Tripura, Assam and Goa to expand its base, buoyed by its electoral success in the March-April Bengal elections.

Though no heavyweight leaders except the Congress' Subal Bhowmik, Prakash Das and BJP MLA Ashis Das, have joined the TMC, it is organising political events for the past three months with support from its MPs, Ministers and leaders from Bengal.

On the other hand, several central BJP leaders including Central Observer Vinod Sonkar, party's northeast region in-charge and General Secretary Ajay Jamwal and Central Observer Fanindra Nath Sharma have been camping in the state for several days to guide the saffron party.

Political commentator Sanjib Deb said that as a multi-cornered contest is expected in the civic polls, normally the ruling party gets an electoral advantage.

"The newest force TMC is yet to set up its organisational structures across the state and there is no heavyweight face in Tripura in the Bengal based party."

"Except a South Indian party, no regional party in India has so far obtained electoral success outside its original territory," Deb, editor of a leading English daily of the region, told IANS.

The main opposition CPI-M after its series of electoral setbacks since 2018, suffered another big blow when two of its top leaders -- state secretary Gautam Das and Left Front convener Bijan Dhar -- died recently due to Covid-19.

To regain its base among the tribals, the party appointed tribal leader Jitendra Chaudhury as the state secretary.

Veteran political analyst Chitra Roy said that the CPI-M led Left parties in Tripura are not so aggressive and active to keep and regain their lost political base.

"The CPI-M and the other Left parties must induct sufficient youths, women, tribal and scheduled caste leaders and good organisers to keep its political relevance in the northeastern state," Roy told IANS.

She said that in Tripura politics, a political base both among the tribals and the scheduled castes is very important as there are 30 seats (20 for the tribals and 10 for the SC) reserved for them in the 60-member Tripura assembly.

Amid allegations of pre-poll violence and intimidation by all the opposition political parties in Tripura, the ruling BJP won 112 (34 per cent) of the 334 seats uncontested in the AMC and 19 other urban local bodies -- Municipal Councils and Nagar Panchayats -- ahead of Thursday's elections.

Officials of the State Election Commission (SEC), which is conducting the civic polls, said that the BJP has already secured a majority in the seven civic bodies in Jirania, Ranir Bazar, Mohanpur, Bishalgarh in Western Tripura, Santir Bazar and Udaipur in southern Tripura and Kamalpur in northern Tripura.

The SEC officials said that now 785 candidates of various parties, including the BJP, the CPI-M led Left parties, the Trinamool Congress and the Congress, are vying for 222 seats.

Counting of votes will take place on November 28.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at sujit.c@ians.in)

--IANS
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