The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance in Tripura swept the byelections in the Boxanagar and Dhanpur constituencies, despite allegations by the opposition of rigging and intimidation. Six months after returning to power for its second consecutive term, the saffron party won the Boxanagar seat for the first time, wresting it away from the CPI(M), which is in an electoral understanding with the Congress.
In the 2023 Assembly elections, the Left-Congress had won Boxanagar, a constituency with nearly 90 per cent minority voters, by defeating the BJP by 4,849 votes. Six months later, the BJP’s Tafajjal Hossain beat CPI(M)‘s Mizan Hossain by 30,237 votes. Tafajjal, with 34,146 votes, secured an overwhelming 87.97 per cent of the votes, while Mizan could manage only 10.07 per cent, with just 3,909 votes.
In Dhanpur, the BJP’s Bindu Debnath retained the seat for the saffron party, securing 30,017 votes (70.35 per cent), while the CPI(M)‘s Kaushik Chanda came a distant second with 11,146 votes (26.12 per cent).
Opposition alleges foul play
Speaking to Frontline, CPI(M)‘s Tripura State Secretary, Jitendra Chaudhuri, said that the Boxanagar result itself justifies the allegations made against the ruling party. “Last time we won by nearly 5,000 votes. Can it be believed that in such a short time, our vote share has come down to just 3,909?” This time the BJP has surpassed all its past records of rigging and election manipulation, he said. “This is a sign of the things to come if they remain in power.”. A statement issued by the Tripura Left Front Committee alleged that the Election Commission of India did not pay heed to their demand for repolling in both constituencies.
The Dhanpur constituency, which the Left had never lost since 1972, was won by the BJP’s Pratima Bhoumik in the 2023 Assembly election by a margin of 3,500 votes. However, Bhowmik, who is an MP and a Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment, decided not to take oath as an MLA, and subsequently, the seat fell vacant. In the byelection, the margin increased from 3,500 to 18,871 votes.
Interestingly, Dhanpur has over 10,000 tribal votes, but despite that, the TIPRA Motha, the single most powerful political force among the tribal population, stayed away from the elections, raising speculations of a possible understanding with the BJP. “There is no doubt that we got the complete support of the Motha voters in Dhanpur,” a high-level BJP source told Frontline. “Though there is no official understanding between the BJP and Motha, there are several top leaders in Motha who are in talks with us.” He, however, did not deny that “some level of intimidation” also took place during the elections.
BJP cites development plank
Dismissing the opposition’s allegations of rigging, the BJP’s State vice president Tapas Bhattacharya said, “It is true the minority never voted for the BJP before, but this time in Boxanagar, they voted overwhelmingly for us because they realised they were being manipulated by the opposition to remain socio-economically backward.” He added that now the minorities want to support the ruling party for their own development. “The Left-Congress’s allegations are just to hide their own lack of presence in Tripura politics,” said Bhattacharya.
According to Mrinal Kanti Deb, a political observer from Tripura, the BJP also “reaped the benefits of centrally supported social security schemes”. Deb, an academic specialising in rural development, pointed out that employment in rural regions in Tripura has increased by 6 and 3 percentage points in the construction and other non-farm sectors. “As a result, the rural Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) among the 15-29 years age group has risen from 38.2 per cent in 2020-21 to 40 per cent in 2021-22. Accordingly, unemployment within the same age group fell significantly; and in rural constituencies, this may have paid rich dividends to the BJP,” he said.