Left in front

Print edition : April 18, 2014

Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar

Trinamool Congress candidate Ratan Chakraborty filing his nomination papers in Agartala on March 19. Photo: PTI

The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front is likely to retain the two seats in Tripura.

FRESH from its resounding victory in the Assembly elections just a year ago, the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front in Tripura seems set to retain both its Lok Sabha seats in the upcoming general election. The voting will be held in two phases in the State—April 7 for the West Tripura constituency and April 12 for East Tripura.

The Left Front, under the leadership of Chief Minister and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Manik Sarkar, returned to power for the fifth consecutive time in the State, winning 50 of the 60 State Assembly seats last year. It is not likely to face any problem in the Lok Sabha elections against a disunited and dispirited opposition comprising the Congress, the All India Trinamool Congress, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This time the Left is fielding new candidates—Sankar Prasad Datta, the State general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), from West Tripura, and Jitendra Choudhury, the State Minister for Forests, Rural Development, and Industries and Commerce, from the East Tripura seat reserved for the Scheduled Tribes.

The Left has been going from strength to strength in the State with its thrust on peace and development, while the opposition has been falling increasingly into disarray. “The alternative policies that are being pursued by the Left Front government in Tripura have been welcomed by the people. Our overall performance in every sphere of development has brought about a major socio-economic change in the State. We hope to increase our vote share by at least 5 per cent in this election,” Gautam Das, spokesperson for the CPI(M) in Tripura, told Frontline. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the total vote share of the Left Front was 61.69 per cent.

The Congress-led front —consisting of the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra (INPT), the National Conference of Tripura (NCT) and the People’s Democratic Front (PDF)—is still reeling from its defeat in the Assembly elections. There has been a steady erosion of its support base, and it has been losing its workers not only to the Trinamool Congress, which has of late been trying to assert itself in the State, but also to the Left. The two candidates fielded by the Congress are Arunoday Saha, former Vice-Chancellor of Tripura University, in West Tripura and Sachitra Debbarma in East Tripura. “Essentially these candidates were chosen for their good image. They are individuals who will be accepted by the people,” said a Congress leader of the State. However, the dwindling crowds in its rallies, the lacklustre performance of its workers, and its inability to hold its flock together do not paint an encouraging picture for the Congress.

On the other hand, the Trinamool Congress, which did not field any candidate in the Assembly elections last year but will contest both the Lok Sabha seats this year, has been more successful than the Congress in drawing crowds. The recent migration of a large number of workers as well as some leaders from the Congress has bolstered the confidence of Mamata Banerjee’s party unit in Tripura. “Even though we have not had much time to prepare, the main battle in this election will be between the Left Front and the Trinamool,” Ratan Chakraborty, the Trinamool candidate from West Tripura, told Frontline. Mukul Roy, the general secretary of the All India Trinamool Congress, had said a few months earlier in Agartala, the State capital: “We have no doubt that we will snatch power from the CPI(M) in the next Assembly elections.”

However, in reality, the Trinamool Congress has not yet taken over the position of the main opposition party, probably for the simple reason that it has not had enough time to establish a solid base across the State. The recent exodus from the Congress is unlikely to alter drastically the present political equations in the State though undeniably it has left the Congress considerably weaker and more demoralised. Some of the influential leaders who left the Congress include former Minister Ratan Chakraborty, former Tripura Pradesh Congress president Surojit Datta, and former Leader of the Opposition Jawhar Saha.

The Pradesh Congress leadership, as expected, has been dismissive of the Trinamool’s prospects. “The leaders who have left the Congress to join the Trinamool wield little influence in the State. Their departure will make no difference to the Congress. In Tripura, the two main political parties will always be the CPI(M) and the Congress, and even if Mamata Banerjee comes here a hundred times, she will not be able to make a dent here,” Birajit Sinha, chairman of the Pradesh Congress Election Committee and a five-time MLA, told Frontline.

The BJP, though never a major player in Tripura, hopes to secure more votes this time. Its presence in the State, however, is so negligible that it is unlikely to make any difference. In fact, according to political observers, even if the BJP’s vote share does increase, it will work to the Left Front’s advantage as it will result in a further division of the anti-Left vote. As far as the opposition is concerned, the coming election in the State is likely to be a tussle for the second position.

While the Left Front’s message to the electorate is of a national nature, calling for a non-Congress and non-BJP secular alternative, the main thrust of the opposition parties’ campaign is a p aribartan (change) in the State. However, the way political equations stand, it is doubtful that the Lok Sabha election will be a harbinger of any p aribartanin Tripura.