Tripura assembly election-2023, a general review and analysis of outcome

Shekhar Dutta

March 18, 2023, 08:08:01   

Tripura assembly election-2023, a  general review and analysis of outcome

The 11th election (as full-fledged state) to the 60-member Tripura state assembly had been held in the backdrop of a lot of controversial issues confronting the people of the state. What marked the election apart from all preceding elections was the coming together in seat sharing arrangement of the Left Front and Congress, traditional rivals in state’s electoral politics since  the year 1952, and the emergence of regional ‘Tipra Motha’ as a strong contender for power in state politics with its brand of ethno-centric politics. 

As it is well known, out of the 60 seats in the Tripura assembly, 20 are reserved for tribals and 10 for scheduled castes. In the assembly polls of 2018 the BJP and regional IPFT combine had pulled off a stunning upset by capturing as many as 44 seats (BJP-36 and IPFT-8) to oust the deeply entrenched Left Front from power after long twenty five years (1993-2018) at a stretch. However, as the government had continued in its tenure five BJP MLAs, Sudip Roybarman, Asish Saha, Diba Chandra Hrangkhawal , Burbamohan Tripura and Asish Das had deserted the party while three IPFT MLAs,namely, Mebar Kumar Jamatya, Brishaketu Debbarma and Dhananjay Tripura had deserted the IPFT to join ‘Tipra Motha’.

Plagued by desertions and growing discontent among people and partymen over a host of issues including critical law and order situation, lack of recruitment to government services except TET teachers and through TPSC, the BJP had  replaced the chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb with Dr Manik Saha in May 2022 . But the party’s central leadership had set in motion a determined preparation for retaining power at any cost from the middle of the year 2022 . However , the IPFT , enfeebled by desertions and death of party patriarch Narendra Chandra Debbarma, had still managed to hold on to its tenuous existence . In the assembly election, notified by the election commission on January 18 and finally held on February 16, the IPFT had been allotted only five seats by BJP that kept 55 for itself. 

A major development in the pre-election scenario was a seat sharing arrangement reached by the Left Front and the Congress as part of which the Left Front had allotted 13 seats to Congress, keeping 47 for itself (CPI (M)-44, Forward Block-1, RSP-1 and CPI-1). The central leaders of the CPI (M) and Congress had arrived at this understanding on the presumption that mutual transfer of votes would pave the way for an easy victory which however remained elusive as the subsequent results proved. Interestingly, even though senior national leaders of CPI (M) including Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechudi and Brinda Karat campaigned for Left Front candidates, no senior stalwart of Congress including Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge appeared for campaign to boost up prospects of party candidates.

The ‘Tipra Motha’ with its exclusionary ethno-centric politics had put up forty two candidates including twenty two in general and SC reserve seats-this is  for the first time that a regional party put up so many candidates in general and SC reserve seats over and above the twenty seats reserved for scheduled tribes. However, ‘Tipra Motha’ had spurned repeated overtures from the BJP as well as the Left Front-Congress combine for seat sharing arrangement. The ‘Tipra Motha’ supremo Pradyot Kishore had asserted in the course of campaign for the February 16 assembly election that his party and candidates would not divide the opposition votes. But this hardly worked at grassroot level as evident from the final poll outcome.  However, the ‘Tipra Motha’s campaign had been very well organized and financed-from whatever sources. It had been anticipated well ahead of the elections that the ‘Tipra Motha’ would perform well in the polls and ultimately this came true but Pradyot’s hopes for playing the king-maker in the post-election scenario proved misplaced. 

The election on February 16 all over the state was more or less peaceful and smooth, contrary to fears expressed by opposition parties, and the credit for this goes to the Election Commission and the state’s chief electoral officer (CEO) Kiran Gittte. However, the declaration of the results of the election on March 2 proved a disaster for the opposition as the CPI (M) that had won 16 seats in the 2018 polls managed to win only 11 this time while the Congress that had drawn a complete blank in 2018 marginally improved its position by winning 3 seats. The ‘Tipra Motha’ won altogether 13 ST seats but managed to ensure defeat of opposition Left Front and Congress in as many as 19 seats including two ST seats, namely, Jolaibari and Manu in south Tripura. The ruling BJP won 32 seats including 7 seats reserved for tribals-a fall of four seats compared with its overall tally of 2018 when the party had secured 36 seats. But the IPFT that had won 8 seats in 2018 suffered a major setback as the party could win only one seat-Jolaibari (ST) in south Tripura despite contesting five constituencies. 

Pradyot Kishore’s dream of playing the king-maker in the post-election scenario came a cropper as his party’s support was not needed by BJP-IPFT combine for forming the government. All that Pradyot could achieve in the election was to ensure defeat of opposition in 19 seats by taking away the tribal votes in general and SC reserve constituencies contested by his party. In the ultimate analysis it emerges clearly that the opposition failed to match the huge resource mobilization of the BJP, the ‘Hindutwawadi’ party’s all out and orchestrated efforts backed by the RSS in the campaign, the beneficial effects for the poor people of the host of central schemes and the inroads made by ‘Tipra Motha’ in tribal votes in general and SC reserve constituencies. 
An intensive look-in into the poll outcome shows a few interesting trends : the chief minister Dr Manik Saha had taken a series of steps to fulfill the outstanding demands of employees like sanctioning 17% DA in two installments, raising the wages of ‘Asha’ and ‘Anganwadi’ workers and raising the pension of home guards et al but this did not seem to have paid any major electoral dividend to his party, the BJP. The reality is reflected in the voting pattern in postal ballots : out of altogether 65,671 postal votes, the ruling BJP got only 34.40% or 22,591votes, the CPI (M) got 25.95% or 17,043 votes, Congress got 8.04% or 5286 votes while the ‘Tipra Motha’ got 21.34% or 14,017 votes. Besides , the decimation of the CPI (M) in tribal areas is another significant feature of the poll outcome. The Marxists in the state who had a nearly impregnable base in the tribal electorate since 1952 Loksabha polls had won only two out of altogether 20 tribal reserve seats in 2018 but this time the party has drawn a complete blank as the dominant ‘Tipra Motha’ won 13 seats, leaving the remaining 7 to be picked up by the BJP, basically on the strength of minority tribal votes. Even in ten SC reserve seats the BJP has outperformed the opposition CPI (M) , capturing 7 and leaving only three to be  won by the CPI (M). There was a time when the CPI (M) had a solid and seemingly unbreakable grip over the ST and SC electorate but that phase seems to be over by now as evident from the assembly poll outcome. The sole consolation prize for the CPI (M) was the victory of the party’s state secretary and former minister and MP Jiten Chowdhury from the ‘general’ Sabroom seat by the narrow margin of less than four hundred votes against the BJP rival Sankar Roy but the results could have been different, had ‘Tipra Motha’ put up a candidate against Jiten Chowdhury. 

Analysis of the poll outcome in terms of percentages of votes secured by parties also presents an interesting picture : the BJP which had secured 43.59% votes in 2018 obtained only 38.97%-a fall of 4.62%. The left front that had secured 42.22% votes in 2018 with sixteen seats this time steeply came down to only 26.80%-a sharp fall of 15.42% votes . But the Congress gained quite handsomely in statistical terms by  winning 3 seats and securing 8.56% votes whereas in 2018 the party had drawn a complete blank in terms of seats  by obtaining only 1.9% votes. The IPFT , partner in the state’s coalition government for five years, also suffered huge loss of votes : in 2018 the party had won 8 seats and 7.5% votes but this time the party won only 1 seat and secured 1.26% votes by contesting five seats. The combined loss of BJP-IPFT votes this time is 10.86% as the combine had secured 51.09% in 2018 but this time the vote has come down to 40.23%. Fighting the assembly polls for the first time the ‘Tipra Motha’ made a major impact by winning 13 seats and securing over 22% votes.