Why the Tripura polls matter - Hindustan Times
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Why the Tripura polls matter

ByHT Editorial
Feb 23, 2023 10:02 PM IST

In the small state, a three-cornered contest is competitive, and holds key symbolic takeaways

Of the three northeastern states going to the polls this month, Tripura is by far the most competitive. The state, where traditional divisions between the Bengali-speaking population in the plains and the tribespeople in the hill districts have shaped politics, is in the middle of a genuine three-cornered contest.

Voters wait in the queue to cast their votes at the polling booth for the Tripura Assembly Elections 2023, on Thursday.(Spokesperson ECI Twitter) PREMIUM
Voters wait in the queue to cast their votes at the polling booth for the Tripura Assembly Elections 2023, on Thursday.(Spokesperson ECI Twitter)

In one corner is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which overturned 25 years of Left rule in 2018 on the back of an unprecedented consolidation of tribal-Bengali votes but which saw some support fritter away in the tenure of its former chief minister (CM), Biplab Deb. It is hoping that its tested strategy of changing the CM, added to its welfare delivery mechanism, the popularity of Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, and lingering resentment against Left rule will see it through. But the alliance remains hobbled by the fading influence of the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura in the tribal-dominated areas. The Opposition alliance – a once unimaginable coming together of the Left and Congress – is pinning its hopes on consolidating its influences and some disappointment with unfulfilled promises of economic development by the BJP-led regime. It has also tried to strike an understanding with the third player, the Tipra Motha. The Motha, headed by former state Congress unit chief Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barma, may be the newest player in the fray, but it has set the narrative with its strong focus on the tribal seats, highlighting the developmental deficits and cultural anxieties of the region, and demanding a separate Tipraland for these groups. Its influence may be limited to the 20 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes, but it will be interesting to see whether it opts for a post-poll tie-up, or if its rhetoric around a separate state polarises the Bengali vote in favour of the BJP, which has taken a clear stand against such a demand.

Tripura is a tiny state. With a population of 3.6 million, it has only 60 assembly seats and two Lok Sabha seats. Its influence, therefore, in national politics is limited. But it remains the only state where two ideological extremes in the Indian polity compete directly. In 2018, the ascendant Right-wing vanquished the Left, and formed the core of the BJP’s northeastern outreach, which has seen the party dominate politics in the seven states and make the region central to Mr Modi’s narrative of transformative governance. Will 2023 cement the Right’s gains in one of the Left’s oldest bastions? In this symbolism lies the real takeaway from Tripura.

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