The Bharti Janta Party’s victory in Tripura has once again illustrated both the failure of the Left coalition and the overwhelming power of the BJP to crush regional and national opposition no matter the state. After a continuity of Left power in Tripura from 1978 (broken only for a 5 year Congress led coalition), the BJP won a clear majority in the state legislative assembly – and has the numbers to form a government with it’s ally, IPFT.
The BJP’s performance on the February 18th polls signaled a shocking reversal of fortunes for the party in the northeast. Despite a concerted campaign in advance of the 2014 national election, the BJP suffered a humiliating defeat in the previous Tripura election. Of the fifty fielded candidates, not one won – and forty-nine had to forfeit their deposit. However, their performance this time shattered expectations, and established Tripura as the party’s foothold in the northeast.
The factors behind this reversal are many, and deserve to be examined in some detail for the future. Two wildly popular proposals by the BJP helped secure the support of the people: protecting the jobs of teachers under threat of unemployment and helping secure the citizenship of Hindu migrants from Bengal. Meanwhile, the Left remained bitterly divided, all while creating a collapsing economy, a serious lack of development, high surging unemployment and an increasingly unhappy tribal population.
The first policy proposal involved protecting the appointment of teachers in the state from cancellation by the Supreme Court. A series of 10,323 government school teachers in December, 2013 had their appointments challenged by rejected applicants to the job. These applicants challenged the appointments as invalid – claiming the lack of written examinations and improper procedure of the interviews violated the Right To Education Act as well as the regulations of the National Council for Teachers Education.
The High Court agreed with the applicants, and ordered that the appointments would stand cancelled. An appeal is pending before the Supreme Court, which is expected to uphold the original judgement. However, the BJP offered to shield the 10,323 school teachers through a one-time exemption passed by the center. This proved wildly successful, and helped win over the middle class.
The second winning proposal was BJP’s proposed amendment to the Citizenship Bill. The party proposed amending the citizenship bill to retroactively grant citizenship to Bengali Hindu migrants in the region. Currently, the bill only provides for citizenship to those migrants that arrived in the country before 1971; however the BJP proposed the removal of this limitation. This same proposal granted them gains in the Assam elections a few years ago, and worked to bring the majority Bengali Hindu community to the BJP’s side.
The BJP was also aided greatly by their partner, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura. The IPFT appealed greatly to the state’s tribal population, which had become more and more dissatisfied with the Left coalition – which had centralized its development initiatives away from tribal regions. The IPFT’s call for a separate state for tribals found a wide audience in the community, and by partnering with the party, BJP was able to win support amongst this marginalized community as well.
With these advantages, BJP was perfectly positioned to ride a wave of anti-establishment sentiment all the way to the CM’s seat. After decades in power, all the Left had to show for their work was a floundering economy, mass unemployment, and a lack of significant development. More than 6 lakh people are registered as unemployed in the state, which only has a population of 38 lakh all told – giving Tripura one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. The unemployment was exacerbated by serious lack of development – scored by the abysmal lack IT investment in the region despite it becoming the third largest internet gateway in the state.
If that wasn’t enough, the Left was hamstrung by severe internal problems.The CPI(M) repeatedly distanced themselves from the Indian National Congress, while succumbing to severe internal infighting. Party leaders Karat & Yechury differed on their approaches to the challenge posed by the BJP, and both had a public falling out while squabbling for control of the party. Meanwhile, Congress remained on the margins he to continued infighting, an unfocused campaign, and an inability to distance themselves from the Left which sunk them in the anti-establishment wave.
After the defeat of the Left in Tripura, it is unclear if any party remains that can stand against the BJP. After the fall of the Congress party, and the decimation of most regional parties, it seemed as though the only stronghold of opposition was the far left alliance of CPI, CPI(M), and their ilk. With the Tripura election’s decisive result, it seems as though the future is printed in saffron.
By Akash Kashyap