Agartala: The results of the recently-concluded by-elections in Tripura, also considered the ‘semi-finals’ ahead of the crucial 2023 Assembly elections, are now being seen as a litmus test for the opposition parties eyeing to bounce back.

Traditionally a Left citadel, Tripura, in the last four-and-half years, turned into a stronghold of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The results indicated that the BJP has successfully created its vote bank, which was not there in 2018.

The Congress party has often claimed that its voters, to dislodge arch-rivals CPI-M, voted in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2018 Assembly elections.

The by-election results have also left the opposition parties to ponder over stitching alliances to challenge the BJP in the 2023 assembly elections. The concept of ‘united opposition’ was not new in the state’s political sphere but obviously, the opposition parties lacked the will.

After being inducted into the Indian Union, the people of Tripura either voted for the Congress or CPI-M to power, but 2018 came as a bolt from the blue with the emergence of the BJP.

The BJP significantly outshined Congress to create its space with the anti-Left votes, while the CPI-M lost the polls and became the principal opposition.

The saffron wave in the Northeast certainly cost both parties in a big way. Though the leaders of both parties have a common intention—ousting the BJP, the writings on the wall were still unclear prior to the results of the by-elections. But, the results have cleared all confusion.

Former BJP minister and newly-elected Congress MLA Sudip Roy Barman was quick to make the call. Even before the by-polls, Barman appealed to the opposition parties to unite against the BJP, and the by-poll result showed that his clarion appeal drew optimistic responses.

In an exclusive interview with EastMojo, Barman described why he feels the BJP must be defeated democratically and how his call for united opposition makes sense.

“I have been in the BJP for a long time. Me joining the saffron party was a call from the public, it was not my personal choice. Had we not joined the BJP at that time, the results of the 2018 assembly elections would have been surprisingly otherwise. From the reports we have received from the ground, people were helplessly looking for an alternative, and BJP was expanding its footprints in a rapid phase. Then, a split in opposition vote share would have resulted in zero representation of opposition in the state assembly. Since there was a public demand for a political change of guard, we thought we should not do injustice to the people,” said Barman.

He explained how the BJP in Tripura betrayed the people, and instead of fulfilling any promises, the leaders continued to do lip service.

“Within one year, people realised their mistake. People saw every BJP worker involved in massive corruption, instead of bringing them to order, top party ranks are patronising them and when I saw there is no internal democracy within the party, I decided to quit. The people who are in the top positions of the state BJP are a bunch of frauds and cheats and their sole intention is to use politics as a money-spinning business,” he added.

According to Barman, he had been offered plum posts in the state cabinet but he humbly declined as he wanted to stand beside the people. “BJP high command offered me the post of deputy chief minister to prevent me from quitting. The Trinamool Congress also offered me a Rajya Sabha berth, but I humbly declined all the offers as I felt Congress is the only party that by all means qualifies to be the party that has equal respect for people from all walks of life. The Congress believes in the ideology of secularism and only in the hands of this grand old party, will the future of the country is secured,” he added.

Justifying his statement, Barman said, “All the major centrally-sponsored welfare schemes that are still in force have been introduced by the successive UPA governments and Congress governments of previous times. What is the BJP doing today? They are inciting religious sentiments in states where minorities are a factor. Where there are caste issues, upper castes are being pitted against lower castes. The difference is clear: Congress’s politics is based on the principle of inclusive development and BJP’s idea of politics is power-centric and Tripura is also of no exception.”

According to Barman, the BJP needs to be defeated thoroughly and democratically in Tripura and for that, all the opposition parties of the state must think judiciously. “The BJP government in Tripura miserably failed to create employment scopes for the unemployed youth both in government as well as the private sector. We have scopes in the IT sector as the internet gateway is very close to us, but they could not capitalize it. Not a single big factory has been set up in the last four and five years. The rural economy is in dire straits. Precisely, I can say this government is functioning like a rudderless ship,” said Barman.

“The political parties must ponder that this is the time when we should think judiciously. We must give freedom to our people from this most unsuccessful government. The Left parties and TIPRA are formidable forces in their strongholds and they should respect the public opinion,” he added.

Principal opposition CPI-M, however, responded positively to the call. “We also want more forces to come together to prevent the fascist BJP. If Sudip Roy Barman plays the central role, we have no objection. Let him try and if he is successful, we are ready. The resistance should be more powerful and the circle of resisting forces should also grow,” said Leader of the opposition Manik Sarkar.

CPI-M state secretary Jitendra Chowdhury also welcomed the appeal of Barman.

TIPRA motha chief Pradyot Kishore Debbarman, on the other hand, said, “Our position is clear. We have certain demands which need to be considered. More than a political party, we are a movement. If our demands are considered and agreed upon, we shall think in this regard,” Barman also seemed sceptical about other regional satraps trying hard to make a dent in Tripura.

“Maximum regional political parties are BJP-sponsored. They are created with the motive to eat up the Congress vote banks so that the opposition could be weakened. I would also like to appeal to the people of Tripura not to be carried away by tall claims as the scars left by the BJP are still fresh,” he added. 

Reacting to the opposition’s unity bid, Tripura Minister Sushanta Chowdhury said, “Any political understanding between the CPIM and Congress is disgraceful. For decades, these two parties were engaged in blood-shedding rivalry. People of the state will never entertain such double standard politics.”     

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