Left bastion

Print edition : May 02, 2014

Chief Minister Manik Sarkar as a voter in a polling booth in Agartala on April 7. Photo: PTI

WEST Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee’s call for “paribartan” (change), which saw the defeat of the 34-year-old Left Front government led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal in 2011, does not seem to be working in Tripura where the Left Front government seems firmly entrenched. With its return to power for the fifth consecutive term in the Assembly elections in 2013, the Left Front appears to have found the way to beat the anti-incumbency sentiment that is inevitable with a prolonged stay in power and is likely to retain both its Lok Sabha seats.

The ruling coalition, under the leadership of Chief Minister and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Manik Sarkar, has been going strong. In the past three Assembly elections, the Left’s vote share has been on the ascendant, from 50.9 per cent in 2003 to 51.18 in 2008 and 52.32 in 2013.

In the past three Lok Sabha elections too, the Left Front’s victory was impressive. In 1999, it won both the East Tripura and West Tripura seats with a vote percentage of 56.85, and in 2004, it won with 69.83 per cent. In the 2009 elections in which by and large the Left parties all over the country fared poorly, the Left Front in Tripura was an exception. Even though its vote share (60.9 per cent) was slightly dented, it retained its Lok Sabha seats.

The Left leadership in the State believes that this time its vote percentage will increase. “There is major disillusionment among the people of the State with the Congress’ performance at the Centre and its attitude at the State level. Over the last few months, around 16,000 voters who were loyal to the Congress have announced that they will be siding with us,” Gautam Das, spokesman for the CPI(M) in Tripura, told Frontline. Moreover, with the All India Trinamool Congress also entering the fray this time, further fragmentation of the anti-Left vote is expected, much to the advantage of the Left Front. The Left has also managed to keep intact its main vote bank, the indigenous tribal population, which constitutes around 31 per cent of the electorate.

According to Das, there is no scope for any anti-incumbency factor to work against the ruling party. “The people of the State have seen for themselves the massive development work the State government is doing despite limited resources and financial constraints,” he said.

Tripura has indeed come a long way under Manik Sarkar’s chief ministership. Infrastructure development, particularly the construction of roads, and rural electrification have been extensive. In fact, around 99 per cent of rural Tripura has been electrified. The State government has also been able to reach safe drinking water to around 99 per cent of rural households. Tripura is also on the verge of attaining self-sufficiency in food and will soon cease to be a food-deficit State. In fact, for five consecutive years, the State has held the top position in providing the highest average employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

Development and security have been the State government’s main thrust. Tripura, which was plagued by insurgency for many years, is today largely peaceful. The two main insurgent groups—the National Liberation Front of Tripura and the All Tripura Tiger Force—have mostly been subdued. “We have made the people aware of the dangers of the insurgent groups, and today they have weakened as they are not getting any support or shelter from the common people,” said Das.

However, according to CPI(M) sources, unemployment continues to be a thorn in the side of the State government. “With all the development work and growth in the field of education, the standard of living of the people has gone up; their aspirations have also increased. We are trying to fulfil their aspirations,” a source in the CPI(M) told Frontline.

For three and a half decades, Tripura has been a stronghold of the Left. Except for the period between 1988 and 1993, when the State had a Congress government, the Left Front has been in power in the State since 1978. From 1978 to 1988, Nripen Chakraborty of the CPI(M) served as the Chief Minister. From 1993 to 1998, it was Dasarath Deb. Manik Sarkar took over the reins after Deb’s death in 1998.

Much of the Left’s electoral success since then has also been thanks to the persona of Sarkar. Known as the “poorest Chief Minister in the country”, he has striven for honesty and integrity in his government. His unimpeachable integrity has done as much as his development work in strengthening the Left’s base in the State.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay