Tripura, which has traditionally witnessed a direct or triangular contest, will for the first time in seven decades see a multi-cornered battle as the ruling BJP has emerged as a potent political force after last year’s Assembly polls.
While one of the two Lok Sabha seats in the state went to the polls on April 11, Tripura East will vote on Thursday.
Since 1952, the Left parties have won the East Tripura seat 12 times and the Congress four times.
The CPI-M, which has a substantial base both among the tribals and non-tribals in Tripura, has been winning the tribal reserved seat uninterruptedly since 1996.
In last year’s Assembly polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party secured 36 seats in the 60-member Assembly and got 43.59 per cent of the votes while it’s junior partner the IPFT (Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura) bagged eight seats and 7.38 per cent votes.
The CPI-M-led Left Front won 16 seats despite bagging 44.35 per cent votes while the Congress secured less than 2 per cent votes.
The BJP-IPFT alliance formed the government in Tripura on March 9 last year, ending a 25-year uninterrupted rule of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front.
In the 2014 parliamentary polls, the CPI-M had secured 64 per cent (1,295,436 votes), Congress 15.2 per cent (307,592), Trinamool Congress 9.6 per cent (194,755), BJP 5.7 per cent (115,319) and IPFT 1.1 per cent (21,326) votes.
With most Congress leaders and activists joining the BJP and the Left losing its bastion, the political situation has dramatically changed in Tripura now.
Of Tripura’s four million population, tribals constitute one third (31 per cent). Tribals and tribal-based parties have always played a key role in Tripura politics.
Political analyst Sanjib Deb feels that the Congress would improve its position in the Lok Sabha polls but the BJP remained in a commanding position.
The tribal-based IPFT had helped the BJP achieve the unexpected result in the Assembly polls. However, this time the two are contesting separately.
But election expert Subhash Das, who was earlier a senior officer in the Election Commission, said: “If the Lok Sabha elections are free and fair, the CPI-M and Congress in Tripura East seat would get a significant percentage of votes.”
Rejecting the BJP’s appeal, the IPFT has fielded candidates in Tripura’s both Lok Sabha seats.
IPFT President and Revenue Minister Narendra Chandra Debbarma, who is contesting from Tripura East, said: “We are contesting to raise our demand for tribal statehood. However, we are not snapping our alliance with the BJP.”
Since 2009, the IPFT has been agitating for upgrading the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) as a separate tribal state. The TTAADC has jurisdiction over two-thirds of Tripura’s 10,491 sq km area.
All political parties, including the BJP, CPI-M and the Congress, oppose the IPFT demand.
There are 10 contestants, including two women, in the Tripura East seat.
The three main contenders are CPI-M’s sitting MP and tribal leader Jitendra Chowdhury, BJP’s Rebati Tripura and Congress’ Maharaj Kumari Pragya Deb Barman, the elder sister of state Congress chief Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barman.
Pragya’s father Kirit Birkram Kishore Manikya Deb Barman won the Tripura East seat three times (1967, 1977 and 1989) and her mother Maharani Bibhu Kumari Devi (also a former Minister) succeeded in 1991. Both were Congress nominees.
In all, 1,257,944 voters, including 620,291 women and four ‘third gender’ voters, are eligible to vote in 1,645 polling stations across the mountainous Tripura East constituency.