Geographically one of India’s most-isolated states, Tripura will go to the polls on February 18. Here are the key factors that make the election to the 60-seat Assembly different this time.
1) Just how tiny is Tripura?
The state’s population of 3.6 million people is less than that of most states in India. It’s even less than the population of several districts such as Thane (Maharashtra), Jalpaiguri and Howrah (West Bengal).
The state’s size at 10,491.69sqkm is less than the size of several districts such as Bikaner in Rajasthan, Mahbubnagar in Telangana, and Kutch in Gujarat. Its railway network of 153km is less than the Metro network of India’s capital (348km). The annual budget of the state at nearly Rs 16,000 crore is about one-third the budget of Delhi which has an annual budget of Rs 48,000 crore. And, the total number of petrol pumps in the entire state (78) is almost one-third that of a city like Lucknow, which has 191 petrol pumps.
The Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), an ally of the BJP, wants a separate state to be carved out of this tiny area. The idea of a separate state for tribals goes against the peace and social cohesion that has been held in the past few decades. Unsurprisingly, the BJP has refused to endorse this demand of its ally. The Left Front is against the division of the stae.
2) Ahead on growth, social indices and implementation of laws
Despite its geographical inaccessibility, Communist-run Tripura has grown at the rate of 8 per cent per annum as compared with the national average of 5 per cent in the past four years. It is ranked 20th when it comes to crimes against children and its total share of national crime is just 0.2 per cent. These government data, of course, don’t stop either the BJP or the Congress from misleading the state’s electorate by claiming that Tripura has one of the highest crime rates in the country.
Image: AP file photo
On the education front, Tripura has the second highest literacy rate of 96 per cent, second only to Kerala, another Communist stronghold. And, like most states in India, Tripura too halved its infant mortality rate (IMR) from 51 per thousand live births to 27 per thousand between 2005-06 and 2014-15. The latest IMR stands at 20 per thousand live births. A casual visit to Tripura reveals the absence of beggary, the reason for which has been the strong focus on social protection by implementation of legislations like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
It is also the first northeastern state to enact the National Food Security Act, 2013, as well as one of the few states in the country to become power surplus (it supplies 140mw of power to Bangladesh). Tripura also holds the distinction for awarding the highest number of land titles under the Forest Rights Act. According to Niti Aayog, "Over 1.91 lakh claims were received from forest dwelling families and of these, over 1.24 lakh families have been benefitted with land ownership."
3) Highest number of blood donors in Tripura
Following the bloody decade of the 1980s which was marked by ethnic strife between tribals and non-tribals in the state, the Manik Sarkar-led Left Front government initiated a major peace movement under which youth of the state were motivated to donate their blood to banks instead of spilling it in pitched battles.
As a result, according to the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO), Tripura is one of a handful of states (only six) that have over 95 per cent blood collection through voluntary donors against the national average of around 70 per cent.
4) Only state in India where AFSPA has been repealed
In 2015, Tripura repealed the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 18 years after it was imposed in 1997 following ethnic strife in the state. Despite the claims of "Left terror", it was the Manik Sarkar-led Left Front government that withdrew the Act. All other northeastern states (Mizoram, Meghalaya, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh) - either wholly or partially - continue to uphold the anti-democratic law.
5) A state led by India’s 'poorest' chief minister
According to a latest study by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) 81 per cent of India’s chief ministers are crorepatis. Despite being a four-time chief minister, Tripura’s Manik Sarkar has just Rs 2,410.16 in his bank account, and has never had to file income tax returns. His total assets (including his wife’s) are worth worth Rs 27 lakh.
6) Why BJP wants to win tiny Tripura at any cost?
In the first direct fight between the communists and the BJP, Tripura is witnessing an unprecedented political campaign by the BJP which has set its eyes on dislodging the Left Front government. Tripura is important for the BJP because it has a point to prove. The BJP realises that the sole opposition to its ideology and policies emanates from Left parties, whether it is the farmers’ movement, or the workers’ and students’ protests across the country.
A victory in this communist fortress will give it a massive moral boost ahead of the next General Elections, and will enable it to sell this victory in Kerala, the only other state with a communist government. As a bonus, it will also allow it to say that it has virtually made India "free of Congress".
7) Anti-incumbency against the Left
There is a massive anti-incumbency against the Left Front government, which is neither reflected in the Left-friendly media coverage nor in the Left’s own public statements. The reality is that for the last 40 years(with a five year gap between 1988 and 1993 when the Congress was in power), the Left front government has ruled with virtually no opposition to it. Therefore, it is no wonder that the BJP’s campaign cry of "Chalo Paltai (Let’s Change)" has become viral in the state.
Another reason why the anti-incumbency appears to have dramatically burgeoned is the TV penetration in the state - from around 23 per cent TV owners in the state in 2001 Census, today the TV penetration has doubled to nearly 45 per cent.
8) Congress is Left’s B team in Tripura
If the Left has been considered Congress’s B-team in other parts of India, in Tripura it has been the other way around. The Congress state leadership has enjoyed the comforts of power and have not surmounted a credible opposition to the Left for years now. It is this vacuum, which has been created by the incompetence and vested interests of the Congress’s national and state leadership, that the BJP has filled in for the state’s electorate.
9) Floating voters
After an analysis of the previous election records, it emerges that the floating voter population of roughly 1-2 lakh voters can swing the election results in favour of either the Left or the BJP. In the past two elections, the difference between the voting percentages of the Congress (which came second) and the CPI(M) has hovered between 7 per cent and 10 per cent.
If the swing voter moves away from the CPI (M)-led Left Front, coupled with the gains made from the Congress, the BJP would be a in a solid position to stake claim to power. However, previous elections also show that the majority of the Left’s dedicated supporters are not swayed easily. The promise of "Chalo Paltai" has never been offered to them before.