With only a day left for the by-elections for four Tripura assembly seats on June 23, the war of words between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its main challenger Trinamool Congress (TMC) reached a climax of sorts this week. While TMC’s top leader Mamata Banerjee has not visited Tripura, other senior party leaders including the All India secretary of the TMC, MP Abhishek Banerjee have spearheaded a spirited campaign. Other leaders including Dr. Manas Bhuyan and state party president Subol Bhoumik also held a series of public meetings and participated in road shows. In view of the present decline of the CPI(M) and Congress in Tripura, both of which had ruled in the state for long periods earlier, it was now left to the TMC to counter the might of the ruling BJP, Banerjee commented. Regarding the accusation of the BJP misusing its power against the TMC, there were mixed reactions from local CPI(M) and Congress leaders. However, the catfight among the political parties has left the observers confused as each party has its established pockets of support. The TMC MP further treated the BJP more as an Opposition party and claimed that the anticipated vote split among contending parties would help reduce the BJP’s votes, in view of the strong anti-incumbency factor working at present.
There is no question, however, that the TMC has managed to emerge as the main Opposition challenger to the BJP in terms of the sustained media coverage its leaders have received in both the local and the outstation press. As with the municipal polls held a few months ago, where the TMC emerged as the third party behind the BJP and the CPI(M) in terms of vote shares won, an elaborate and expensive pre-poll campaign had been carried out, much of it planned from its Kolkata headquarters. However, not everything has gone in the TMC’s favor. In a reversal of what usually happens in West Bengal, where group defections from the BJP to the TMC are common, Tripura has seen a similar changing of sides, even before by-elections. The four seats where the by-polls are being held are Agartala, Surma, Jubarajpu, and Bordowali. At Agartala and Bordowali seats, vacancies occurred as former Congress leader Sudip Roy Burman who had joined the BJP joined the TMC. His colleague Ashis Saha did the same. However, Saha lost his membership shortly afterward owing to the non-fulfillment of certain technicalities. Elections became due at Jubarajnagar as the veteran CPI(M) leader Ramendra Debnath died. Both Congress and the CPI(M) have also gone all out in their make-or-break fight against the BJP.
While the TMC has thrown in star campaigner Shatrughan Sinha to lead the TMC’s roadshows, drawing large crowds, the BJP used its regional heavyweight leader, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to bolster its Tripura campaign. This, said observers, was mainly because all contending parties were treating these by-polls as a dress rehearsal before the 2023 Assembly elections. While the monsoon rains did disrupt pre-poll programs, Assam CM maintained that Opposition parties should not be afraid and concentrate on their campaigns, for the ball rests on the peoples’ mandate. He also referred that the successive Governments at the center have always been trying to give special attention to not only Tripura but the entire NE region. On the other hand, other political parties were also seen making efforts for a turnaround, but the current response from the people is still not conclusive enough, given the results of other assembly elections, the psephologists observe. All in all, the people and political parties are looking for unbiased and fair elections, the results of which are scheduled to be declared on June 26.