Pre-poll campaigning has reached its peak in Tripura, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting twice during the last three days addressing election meetings in the state and home minister Amit Shah holding road shows and meetings on February 6 and 7 and again on February 12. It was the biggest mobilisation of the BJP of its leaders for helping the Party retain power for the second time beating the challenge of the Left-Congress alliance and the tribal outfit Tipra Motha. Other major contending parties like the CPI (M), Congress and the Trinamool Congress have also deputed their top leaders in the fray, with only three days left for the day of polling on February 16. They include Sitaram Yechury, CPI (M) general secretary; Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal chief minister and Abhishek Banerjee, general secretary of the Trinamool Congress.
State Congress leaders told Tripura-based media persons that party president Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi, and Priyanka Gandhi were expected to join the campaign. With strong new tribal entrant party Tipra Motha contesting, observers expect the elections in 2023 to be a three-cornered fight, marking a departure from the past. The TM, which unlike other tribal outfits like the more established IPFT is not part of any pre-poll alliance, seems destined to play the kingmaker’s role in the post-poll scenario if there is a hung assembly. Despite preliminary talks with both the ruling BJP and the opposition alliance of the CPI (M)-led Left Front and Congress, the TM’s insistence on the creation of a larger tribal state prevented a larger pre-election understanding. But it also left the TM with the option of supporting either the BJP or the LF/Congress combine after the results were announced. No doubt there would be some hard bargaining involving all three parties/groups once the results are announced on March 2.
Despite a sustained energetic campaign launched by the TMC, kickstarter by Banerjee, and state leaders visiting from West Bengal to maintain the momentum, observers do not see it as an effective challenger in the polls yet. Most observers are convinced that but for major upsets, its success would not be at par with the other contending groups/parties. As for the BJP, regardless of its strong campaign against what its top leaders including the Prime Minister described as the propagation of a ‘freebies’ culture among voters by opposition parties, the saffron brigade could not live up to its stand. The ruling party as it braces for the polls has ended up offering, among other items, Rs 5 meals for people, free smartphones for students, and free scooties for scholarship-winning boys and girls, in addition to more generous official loans/insurance facilities for the electorate. Apart from this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, and BJP president JP Nadda have already visited Tripura and participated in the BJP programs. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have taken Tripura as the prestige battle as this is the only state out of the three states going to polls in the first phase this year in the Northeast where the BJP has the potential to come to power and rule on its own. The BJP leadership cannot afford to start as a loser in the first phase of assembly polls.