March 3 , 2018 will go down as a black day in the history of Left-wing politics in India. The nightmare of losing Tripura to the BJP will continue to haunt the Left for a long time. The CPM-led Left Front, which was in power for the past 25 years with Manik Sarkar as chief minister for 20 years, managed to get only 16 seats, down from 50 in 2013.
The biggest jolt for the Left was that it managed to win just two seats out of 19 in the tribal belt of the state, termed as the “red land of the state”.
Between 2013 and 2018, the CPM-led Left Front had won all elections in the state with considerable majority - from panchayat polls to municipal elections and legislative by-polls as well as the Lok Sabha elections held during this period. So, what made the Left lose its stronghold now?
Image: PTI photo
Well, there are many reasons which led to the downfall of the 25-year-old communist regime in Tripura. The first and foremost is the issue of unemployment. Tripura has the highest unemployment rate in India. (According to the Employment-Unemployment Survey for 2015-2016 by the Labour Bureau, Tripura has an unemployment rate of 19.7 per cent, followed by Sikkim - 18.1 per cent).
The Left government miserably failed to create new jobs. The capital city of Agartala became the third internet gateway of the country three years ago, yet the government failed to create any IT jobs. Even the public sector, which the Left dispensation relied on for jobs, is not in a good shape.
The cancellation of appointment of 10,323 government school teachers by the Supreme Court and the Left government's failure to resolve the issue also made the people of the state think of choosing a more "powerful party" as the new alternative.
There were reports of high corruption in the administration across the state, mainly at panchayat and block levels. The government failed to tighten the noose around corrupt government officials and local CPM leaders. This gave the Left Front government a bad image despite having a chief minister with impeccable credentials - Manik Sarkar.
It is a fact that the Left was successful in curbing the decades-long insurgency problem in the state. And this probably was the biggest achievement of the Left government.
Tripura, once troubled by insurgency, became one of the most peaceful states of the country during Manik Sarkar's reign. But once peace was restored, the people expected development. Even though the Left tried its best, or so it seemed, the pace of development was slow.
The Left government even failed to tackle, both administratively and politically, the rise of the IPFT(NC), a separatist tribal party. The tribal party's success in holding an 11-day-long roadblock demanding a separate Tipraland nearly stalled the state's economy. This was probably one of the biggest administrative failures of the Manik Sarkar government.
The government's hesitation to use force immediately to quell the agitation dented its image that was achieved after curbing the decades-long insurgency in the state.
Politically speaking, the Left also failed to capitalise on its tribal wing, Ganamukti Parishad, and its president and Lok Sabha MP Jitendra Chaudhury during election campaigning, which was mainly dependent only on Manik Sarkar.
The elevation of a popular tribal face like Choudhury in the party would have played an important role in "neutralising" the IPFT(NC). The party failed to do so, and the result was disastrous for the Left in the tribal belt which sends 20 MLAs to the state Assembly.
Moreover, the CPM-led Left Front's manifesto and the campaign failed to project future course of action, if elected. The campaigning talked only of the past, instead of the future course of action. Its silence on creating jobs in public sector, non-implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission (government employees in Tripura continue to draw salaries on the basis of the Fourth Pay Commission) and the failure to attract the youths who want IT companies in the state, attributed to the downfall of the party.
While the Left completely failed in drawing the attention of the first-time voters (nearly 47,000 out of a total of 25,36,589 voters), the BJP’s manifesto was designed mainly to lure the youths by promising to provide smartphones and IT jobs.
The decision of the CPM to retain its old faces as candidates instead of nominating youth leaders also added to its woes.
On the other hand, the CPM’s going soft on the Congress too cost the party heavily. The declaration of the Left leaders that the Congress is a "good party in comparison to the BJP", only helped the anti-Left Congress voters to desert Manik Sarkar and his party in Tripura.
The Congress not only failed to win a single seat, but also lost its security deposit in 58 seats. The Left had expected that the Congress would cut into the opposition votes, but instead the Congress sank like the Titanic.
And as a result, the BJP-IPFT (NC) coalition managed to breach the “red wall of Tripura”.
The only thing that the Left can take comfort in is the fact that the CPM got 45 per cent of the votes compared with 50.5 per cent votes bagged by the BJP-IPFT alliance. Interestingly, the CPM got 42.7 per cent votes while BJP bagged 43 per cent.