Long queues of voters – men and women of all age groups – were still dominating the sunset landscape of polling in Tripura with the voting percentage crossing 81 per cent of the electorate by 4 pm.
Some constituencies in capital Agartala registered more polling than previous elections.
Angry voters resisted ‘bike gangs’ allegedly unleashed by the ruling BJP to chase away voters in some constituencies early in the day. The Left-Congress alliance accused the BJP of booth capturing and intimidation in many places but the BJP denied the charge and claimed polls were free and fair, pointing to the huge turnout all over the state.
Also read: Tripura Assembly polls: Over 70% voter turnout till 3 pm with sporadic violence
Tripura chief minister Manik Saha predicted a clear majority for the BJP but state Congress supremo Sudip Ray Barman claimed the saffrons will “not cross double digits”. Left leaders like projected chief minister Jiten Choudhury were quietly confident, with one saying the “red star will rise” over the tiny state yet again.
The Left is contesting 47 seats and Congress 13 while the BJP is contesting 55 and its tribal ally IPFT 5. The Tipra Motha led by royal scion Pradyot Kishore is contesting 42 seats, including all the 20 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes.
The BJP has fielded Union Minister Pratima Bhowmik from Dhanpur on the state’s border with Bangladesh in a move many say pointing to the uncertainty over the outcome of Chief Minister Manik Saha’s fate. Saha seems headed for a huge challenge from Congress veteran Ashis Saha who had won on a BJP ticket before but he returned to Congress with Sudip Ray Barman. Bhowmik has denied chief ministerial ambitions but BJP insiders point to factionalism between supporters of former chief ministers Biplab Deb, Pratima Bhowmik and Manik Saha.
Support for Left-Congress alliance
By contrast, the Left-Congress alliance has settled the leadership by projecting Jiten Choudhury, a veteran tribal leader and former CPI(M) minister and MP, as its chief minister face. Reliable sources point to the Tipra Motha supporting the alliance from outside if it could run the BJP close but fell short of numbers. Maharaja Pradyot Kishore suddenly climbed atop a podium during a Left-Congress roadside rally and embraced Sudip Ray Barman and CPI(M) candidate Purosottam Ray Barman in Agartala’s Ramnagar area on Sunday, sparking speculations that the Motha will back the secular alliance rather than the saffrons. The Maharaja denied charges by Home Minister Amit Shah that the Motha was in secret parleys with the Left-Congress alliance, saying “I am my own King, my own master.”
Also read: Tripura polls: Tough battle ahead as BJP shows VIP power, Oppn hints at unity
But his less than meeting with Amit Shah this month may have made him open up to the secular alliance in case he had the numbers both major contenders would need to form a government.
The Tripura poll outcome may set a trend in the long election year when many Indian states go to the hustings in the rundown to the 2024 parliament polls.
The Congress is making a major statement by playing junior partner to the Left in Tripura in what many feel is a signal to India’s multiple regional parties who have great local following but a need a “glue” like the Congress to cobble together a countrywide alliance to take on the BJP on the national stage where it has looked unassailable in the Modi era from 2014. Which means the Grand Old Party is reconciled to playing second fiddle to regional parties in states where it does not have the capacity to lead the pack.
Also read: BJP will get absolute majority, says Tripura CM Manik Saha
“That is exactly the signal all anti-BJP parties need at this juncture to work out a platform to launch an assault on the BJP by capitalising on its many failures and controversies,” said Biswanath Saha, a senior Left leader in Tripura. “The Tripura model may just work nationally.”