Amit Raut pointed at Marx Engels Sarani in Agartala and recounted a drive he had taken in end-May along the road, on which stand the houses of Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and other ministers. His vehicle was in a convoy of around ten that carried several CPM supporters to Kanchanpur where they joined the BJP, he said. Raut said he had always been a CPM supporter but will now vote for the BJP in next elections. He is among several CPM members or supporters — the BJP claims 5,000-odd — who have switched sides in the last few months.
Its ambitions in the Northeast lifted by the victory in Assam, the BJP has been targeting the ruling CPM of late in Tripura, with the Congress already seen as a dwindling force. “Imphal Municipality elections in Manipur. BJP has won d 1st seat. Leading in several seats. Hoping to emerge as d largest party. NE forey on,” BJP general secretary Ram Madhav tweeted last week, before his party went on to become the second largest in Imphal municipality with 10 seats to the Congress’s 12.
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In Tripura, the BJP claims to have grown to 2 lakh members, nearly a tenth of the state’s 23.5 lakh voters. It had
10,000 members last year, said Biplab Kumar Deb, newly appointed state BJP chief. An RSS member and son of another, he had worked outside the state since 1998 before returning as jansampark abhiyan pramukh in April 2015 and then, at age 44, being made the youngest president of any state BJP unit in February.
The RSS too has been more visible. Its officers training camp was held in Tripura this summer, with around 500 participants; it used to be held in Assam earlier.
Congress and BJP
The Congress has ceded ground to the Trinamool Congress, with six of its 10 MLAs defecting. The BJP’s gains at the expense of the Congress had preceded Deb’s arrival. In 2013, the BJP had lost its deposit in 49 of the 50 seats it contested. In the last 12 months, it has ended second in all three bypolls; it has been the Congress that has lost its deposit. Besides, the BJP has also had councillors elected in urban bodies and won over 50 seats in village councils.
Pradyut Deb Barman, acting president of the Tripura Congress, said, “It is true that the BJP has gained recently but it had been the prime gainer in the 2001-03 Autonomous District Council polls too. There is a trend here that some people gravitate towards the party in power in Delhi,” he said. He dismissed the shift towards the Trinamool too.
The BJP, for its part, dismissed the Congress. “We have gained a major part of the Congress vote and are now moving into CPM territory,” Biplab Deb said. “Five thousand CPM supporters and members have joined the BJP in the last few months.”
CPM and BJP
CPM state secretary Bijan Dhar admits the BJP is rising but says there is no threat. “Elections will be held in two years. Before football season, some people always change camps. A small fraction of CPM supporters might have shifted to the BJP, but it’s the Congress from which a major chunk has gone to the BJP, as is visible in the vote share during byelections.”
The BJP is looking at an alliance with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, a party of local tribes. “The CPM’s main strength is tribals. If needed we will ally with IPFT,” Deb said. Of the 60 seats, 20 are reserved for STs and 10 for SCs. At present, except one all the other ST seats are held by the Left. “Under the leadership of a former state member of Gana Mukti Parishad (a tribal outfit of Left), around 1200 tribals joined BJP on May 10,” he said.