How Left gradually lost its footing in Tripura tribal areas
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Agartala: Apart from TIPRA Motha’s stunning performance and BJP majority sweep, 2023 Tripura polls also leave a lasting impression on Tripura politics and that is the end of Left’s dominance in the tribal areas of the state.

The hills of Tripura are considered to be the land of genesis for the Left movement to “protect the tribal rights”.

CPIM stalwarts like former Chief Ministers Nripen Chakraborty and Dasarath Deb, former MP Biren Datta so on and so forth had worked extensively in the tribal belt that created a strong base for the party to expand footing in the areas beyond.

CPIM leaders often admitted in private that the party always saw the fight in non-tribal seats as tougher than the 20 reserved seats. Hitherto the rise of IPFT with the demand for a separate state, tribal votes were loyal to the CPIM and it was proved time and again election after election.

But, since 2018 it has been a free fall for the Left in the tribal areas in terms of vote share as well as the presence in the region. It became more evident when CPIM state secretary Jitendra Choudhary, despite being a tribal leader, fought the elections from Sabroom—an adjacent seat to his home constituency in South Tripura—instead of fighting from a reserved seat.

Several senior CPIM leaders, however, have different opinions. “It was a calculative step. He wanted to fight from a general seat as he was the Chief Ministerial face of the Left and Congress alliance. He wanted to prove that he was equally popular among the tribals and non-tribals. Had he contested from any of the tribal reserved seats, he would have won with a larger margin,” said a senior CPIM leader. Chaudhury won the elections with a wafer-thin margin of less than 400 votes.

However, people have differences of opinion on his victory but one thing that leaders across the party lines agree on is that the CPIM has been completely wiped out from the tribal areas.

In 2018, it had two indigenous MLAs from tribal reserved seats but in these elections, the Left candidates faced defeats in both seats. The only tribal face the Left now has in the assembly is Jitendra Choudhury who is elected from general seats.

The Left’s hold on the tribal voters did not run out of steam all of a sudden. The share of votes was consistently on the fall in several TTAADC elections. Data from the State Election Commission, the body that conducts the TTAADC polls, shows the party came to power in TTAADC in 2005 defeating a worn-out administration run by IPFT.

The party swept all the seats with a 72 percent vote share. INPT, a party led by now TIPRA president BK Hrangkhwal, came second and Congress as usual was third. In the 2010 TTAADC elections, the party again did well bagging 63 percent of the total vote share. Congress was surprisingly in the second position pushing INPT into the third slot.

In 2015, Left slid below the 50 percent mark. It swept to power with 48.88 percent votes and the opposition got divided into two camps -IPFT and INPT. It was when IPFT was on its resurgence bid with the slogan of separate statehood after being inactive for a decade or so. IPFT emerged as the second largest party and INPT retained its status of third last. In each of the councils that the Left ruled, there was no opposition. The vote share decreased and the party ruled an oppositionless council till 2021 but when the last elections were held for the TTAADC, Left was completely decimated.

Neither it lost power to TIPRA, the party could even secure the second position itself. With little over 37 percent votes, TIPRA won 18 seats while BJP emerged victorious in ten seats altogether. The total strength of the council is 30 consisting of 28 elected representatives and two nominated members by the Governor of the state.

The Left could not even secure the third position as INPT came third and Left with 12.46 percent votes stood fourth. IPFT, a partner in the BJP-IPFT government, secured the fifth position with around 10 percent votes.

In the intervening six years between 2015 to 2021, the electorates of the tribal areas have been found to be experimenting with new options. In the 2018 assembly elections, IPFT and BJP bagged the majority of tribal votes. Out of 20 reserved seats, Left could only secure two while BJP got 10 and IPFT swept eight seats altogether. Although the TTAADC elections were supposed to be conducted in 2020, due to the outbreak of the pandemic the polls were postponed.

With protests against Citizenship Amendment Act taking the whole North East with storm, TIPRA emerged as the new political platform with a refreshed slogan of “Greater Tipraland”. The lion’s share of the indigenous voters now shifted their loyalty towards TIPRA and the party succeeded to hold its sway over the masses even in the just concluded polls as well.

Speaking on the issue, a senior CPIM leader said, “It is a fact that Left’s performance has been constantly poor in the tribal areas for the last two elections. But, it is not true that the party did not want to make reforms in its strategy. The party unanimously elected Jitendra Choudhary as the party state secretary in order to convey a message that we are not against the tribes. Even our party had been demanding passage of the 125th constitutional amendment Bill which guarantees more empowerment and autonomy to all the sixth schedule areas of the North East region.”

The senior party functionary who wishes to remain anonymous said the problem lies with the lack of new generation leadership coming up from the tribal region. “Anti-incumbency is a big factor for our defeat but at the same time we have to admit that a leadership crisis has engulfed the whole organization of the CPIM. The leaders who had represented those tribal areas could not make their space and void was filled up by parties like IPFT and TIPRA,” the CPIM leader pointed out.

Today, the Left can’t even claim the status of opposition party both in the TTAADC and the state assembly. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, however, made significant inroads in the hilly areas.

BJP Tripura General Secretary Papia Datta said, “The CPIM people keep making statements on how TIPRA Motha cut their votes to help the BJP retain power. Without TIPRA in the contest, BJP would have got more seats. Even as TIPRA was enjoying such a strong wave across the state with thousands of people following the party, it is the BJP that won seven seats in tribal areas. Our position is very clear, with TIPRA out of the contest, BJP would have at least won 15 to 16 seats out of the 20 reserved seats.”

Another BJP leader who did not wish to be named said, Motha might have some role in deciding the winner in a handful of seats, BJP’s expansion plans in far-flung tribal areas could not be materialised due to the meteoric rise of the royal scion-led party.

“Lakhs of people in the tribal areas are direct beneficiaries of the centrally sponsored schemes. It would be a gross mistake even if TIPRA feels they have achieved something remarkable. BJP has won seven tribal seats and see the composition of our MLAs. We have MLAs who represent major tribal communities like Debbarma, Reang, Jamatia, Chakma and Mog. Look at TIPRA, do they have equal representation of all the tribal communities? The call of Thansa (Unity) might have been raised by TIPRA, but the real Thansa (Unity) actually happened on the rival side of it,” a senior BJP leader and a minister in Dr. Manik Saha-led Tripura cabinet told EastMojo.

Also Read | Tripura: Sans TIPRA, BJP would have won 50 seats, says Pradyot

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