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Left fortress

Print edition : Mar 28, 2008 T+T-

The Left Front sweeps Tripura with a three-fourths majority in elections marked by a record turnout.

in Guwahati

The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front swept the February 23 polls to retain power for the fourth consecutive time in Tripura. It secured a three-fourths majority by winning 49 of the 60 Assembly seats, eight more than its tally in the 2003 elections. On its own, the CPI(M) won 46 seats, while other Left Front constituents, the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and the Communist Party of India (CPI), bagged two seats and one respectively. The Forward Bloc, which had quit the Front over the sharing of seats and put up candidates in 12 seats, drew a blank.

The Congress-Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra (INPT) combine was pushed to the sidelines in the north-eastern State; the Congress won 10 seats down three seats from 2003 and the INPT had to be content with just one seat. It had six seats in the previous Assembly.

The elections this time in Tripura were unprecedented, for they saw a record turnout 92.33 per cent of the States 20.36 lakh voters. Also, Tripura became the first State in the country to have gone to polls with electors photo identity cards (EPIC) for all the voters, photo electoral rolls and electronic voting machines.

The results disproved criticism of the Left Front government that followed the deletion of more than two lakh names from the voters list by the Election Commission. The Congress propaganda apparently was that the Left had managed to stay on in power by scientific rigging of these over two lakh fictitious votes. However, the party seems to have ignored the organisational base of the CPI(M), which the left party had assiduously built up among the tribal and non-tribal people of the State.

The run-up to the polls witnessed a high-voltage campaign, with the Congress hoping to generate a wave by harping on the misrule of the Left Front. Its campaign bandwagon was led by none other than United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, apart from a host of Central leaders and Congress stalwarts such as External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi and Union Minister for Heavy Industries Santosh Mohan Dev.

Chief Minister Manik Sarkar described the Left Fronts victory as a massive positive mandate for lasting peace, stability and development. He told Frontline that the priority of the sixth Left Front government in the State would be to upgrade the standard of living of people of Tripura and alleviate the conditions of people living below the poverty line, besides carrying forward the agenda of peace, stability and development. He said the atmosphere of amity created among tribal and non-tribal people under successive Left Front governments was a key factor behind the massive electoral victory. Even as the Left fortress in rural and tribal areas remained invincible, the CPI(M) made inroads into traditional Congress strongholds in the urban areas.

In tribal areas, the Left Front improved its performance by winning 19 of the 20 seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribes (S.T.). The victory can be attributed to two major factors: the sustained development work done in these areas by the Left Front and the losing clout of the two extremist outfits the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and the All Tripura Tigers Force (ATTF) among tribal voters. In the 2003 Assembly polls, both outfits allegedly intimidated voters and carried out attacks on Left Front cadre and supporters; this apparently helped the INPT secure as many as six seats. This time, however, voters in the tribal areas could exercise their franchise without fear of the extremists.

The results clearly indicate that the tribal people, who form 31 per cent of the States population, want the peace in the hills of Tripura to be a lasting one so that they can reap the benefits of sustained development. The Left Front had cautioned the voters that if the Congress-INPT combine succeeded in capturing power in Agartala it would only bring back the horror days of the coalition rule of the Congress-Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti (TUJS) coalition government from 1988 to 1993. Left leaders, in their campaign speeches, alleged that the INPT was only a political mask of the extremists. The Congress and the INPT, while refuting the allegation, tried to woo the tribal voters by claiming that the tribal people have remained the most deprived under Left rule. Other campaign issues were misuse of funds and failure of the Left Front government on all fronts.

The CPI(M) wrested the Ampinagar, Raimavalley, Pramodnagar, Chawmonu and Takarjala seats from the INPT. The underground leader-turned-politician, Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhwal, is the lone INPT representative in the new Assembly; he won by a slender margin of 115 votes. In 2003, Hrangkhwal won by 3,980 votes.

In Pramodnagar, Aghore Debbarma, senior tribal leader and present Chief Executive Member (CEM) of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC), won by 4,819 votes on the CPI(M) ticket. The party also wrested the Golaghati seat, another reserved seat for the S.Ts, from the Congress. In the 2003 polls, the CPI(M) lost the seat to the Congress by one vote. This time, however, the partys Keshab Debbarma won by 2,987 votes. The ruling party retained the Kanchanpur seat, in which the CPI(M) had scored a one-vote victory last time. This time the vote margin is 503.

The Left Front also won in all the seven seats reserved for the Scheduled Castes.

Manik Sarkar attributed the improved performance of the party in the tribal areas to development work initiated by the State government in the fields of education, health care and road connectivity to the villages. The development indicators, the government points out, are many the construction of a road to Ampura, the ancestral village of the iconic Communist leader Dasarath Deb, in Khowal subdivision; primary health centres; a double-storey market; a residential school for orphaned tribal children and a high school; and the implementation of a public water supply scheme, to name a few.

The results, which came out a day ahead of the International Womens Day, also brought cheer to women cadre of the party; three of the five women candidates put up by it got elected.

The electioneering provided a perfect stage for the Left and the Congress to intensify their ideological battle. CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat and West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhhattacharjee joined Manik Sarkar and other Left leaders in the State flaying the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at the Centre on a range of issues, from the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal to economic policies.