The Left Loses an Election in Tripura, but it Has Not Been Defeated

By Vijay Prashad

The BJP and its ally – the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) – have won the 2018 elections to the Tripura state legislature. The alliance of the BJP and the IPFT will now form a government.

The Left

It is the first time in twenty-five years that Tripura, a state of four million people in India’s northeast, will be without a government of the Left. The outgoing chief minister – Manik Sarkar of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI-M] – has been in that office since March 1998. Before Manik Sarkar, the chief minister was CPI-M leader Dasarath Deb, whose Left government ruled the state from April 1993.

Since the first elections in Tripura in 1963, the Left has played a crucial role in the state. It was the principle opposition to the Congress Party’s governments and to president’s rule. The Left ruled the state in coalition and then for a decade from 1978 to 1988 under the leadership of CPI-M leader Nripen Chakraborty.

During this long period of active work in Tripura, the Left played the role of the architect of the state’s tremendous achievements. When the Northeast was wracked by State violence and secessionist insurgency, the Left government in Tripura put its focus on education and health care, on human security over military security. Great investment of popular energy and social wealth went towards increasingly the literacy rate and decreasing vulnerabilities from ill health and old age. Recently, Tripura – this small state – moved into the top position on India’s literacy chart. The literacy rate in Tripura is now 94.65% – one of the singular achievements of the people of Tripura and of its Left government. V. K. Ramachandran and Madhura Swaminathan, who have closely studied the social progress in the state, make an important point about the literacy rate in their article last year in The Hindu,

A measure of progress in schooling of the population in these villages is the number of years of completed schooling among women in the age group 18 to 45 years. In Khakchang in 2005, more than 50% of women in the age group had not completed a year of schooling. By 2016, the median number of completed years of schooling among women in the age group was seven — outstanding progress for a decade. The corresponding figure for Mainama, also a Scheduled Tribe dominated village, was six years in 2005 and nine years in 2016.

In terms of health care, Ramachandran and Swaminathan point out, the infant mortality rate ‘almost halved between 2005-06 and 2014-15 declining from 51 per thousand live births to 27 per thousand’. There are more numbers to look at – the sex ratio, the child mortality rate, and so on. In each of these, over the course of the past sixty years, Tripura has done better than any other comparable state and indeed better than most states in India. There is no question that the Left government and Left struggle has had a role in driving some of the state’s surplus towards improving the social lives of Tripura’s people.

There is little doubt that the Left in Tripura governed with sincerity. It is one of the states with almost no corruption. The Chief Minister Manik Sarkar is famously known as the poorest head of government in India. The Left’s Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) had little wealth amongst them. These are people who care about their state and care to put forward a left agenda for the people. Corruption scandals are unknown and no scandal of any kind wracked the government.

The Loss

So, why did the Left lose? It is important to point out that the Election Commission’s data shows that the Left won 43% of the total vote – almost identical to the vote secured by the BJP. This means that a sizable section of the voting public continues to vest its hopes and aspirations in the Left. It would be irresponsible to ignore this basic fact. No previous election in Tripura has been this close. In 2013, the Left won 48% of the vote, while its closest competitor – the Indian National Congress – won 36.5% and in 2008, the Left won 48% of the vote, while the Congress won 36% of the vote. This time, the two main parties won almost equivalent percentages of the vote.

It is also important to bear in mind that this is less the BJP’s victory than the complete decimation of the Congress Party. The BJP has operated here like a corporate megalith with its mergers and acquisitions strategy. It essentially used its immense money power to draw in large numbers of low level and senior level Congress leaders – many of them going through the Trojan Horse of the Trinamul Congress. An illustrative example is Sudip Roy Barman, the son of a former Congress leader and Chief Minister of Tripura Samir Ranjan Barman. Sudip Roy Barman was the Congress Party’s leader in the Tripura Legislative Assembly. He was a major figure in the party. In 2016, Barman joined the Trinamul Congress – hoping that its success in West Bengal would translate into Tripura. It did not. So Barman, in 2017 and in anticipation of this Assembly election, went with others into the BJP. So, the first important point to bear in mind is that the BJP was able to acquire Tripura’s ready-made political opposition and arm it with the full arsenal of the BJP’s financial and organisational resources.

Then, the BJP merged its campaign with that of the Indigenous People’s Tribal Front of Tripura, a secessionist group that demands the creation of Tripraland. Armed extremist groups such as the National Liberation Front of Tripura and the Tripura National Volunteers have backed the IPFT. In orientation, these armed groups – and the IPFT – are in favour of ethnic cleansing. The Tripura National Volunteers, which merged into the IPFT, stood for the expulsion of those of Bengali nationality from the state. The Congress had earlier allied with the IPFT, which gave this narrowly ethnicist party respectability. It did so to try and eject the Left. That failed. Now the BJP has used the IPFT to allow it to make inroads into the various tribal communities of Tripura.

A combination of this merger and acquisition strategy, immense amounts of money for the election and an anti-incumbency strategy (Chalo Paltai) allowed the BJP and its IPFT ally to prevail. They are now in power.

What Next?

A taste of what is to come can be seen in the 23-Dhanpur assembly seat, where Chief Minister Manik Sarkar is in the contest. The BJP hastily called for the counting to be stopped when it appeared that Sarkar was in the lead. According to a letter that the CPI-M sent to the Chief Election Commissioner, ‘we have got reports that with the help of the [police], counting agents of the CPI-M are being driven out from the counting centre leaving Manik Sarkar alone, who is being gheraoed and heckled by the BJP agents’. This is a taste of the thuggishness that is to come.

But the Left, with the support of almost half the population, is prepared to be a radical and sincere opposition force. It will fight to defend the social gains of the people and win the trust back of those who have voted for the BJP. There is no doubt that disenchantment with the BJP will come fast and furiously. The Left must be prepared to win those people back.

This was the first time the Left went head to head with the BJP. The loss is a blow, but it does not define the contest. The Left is the most trusted force to combat the fascistic RSS (from where the next Tripura chief minister Biplab Deb comes) and to combat the communalist BJP. It remains in power in Kerala and has asserted itself with dignity and courage on the streets besides the farmers of Rajasthan and the ASHA workers of Haryana.

There is no time to be lost. Today the ruling classes will preen about the defeat of the Left in Tripura. But the Left has ground to cover. This was not the defeat of the Left as much as the loss of an election. The Left is alive and well, awake to its responsibilities now and in the future.


Vijay Prashad is the Chief Editor of LeftWord Books. His most recent book is the collection of essays called Strongmen: Trump, Modi, Erdogan, Duterte, with essays by Eve Ensler, Danish Husain, Burhan Sönmez and Ninotchka Rosca. He is also the Director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

11 thoughts on “The Left Loses an Election in Tripura, but it Has Not Been Defeated

  1. Parthasarathy K S

    4th March 2018 — 2:43 am

    Much of the BJPs success seem to be riding on Ipft. That could be undoing of alliance halfway through . So Left must be in preparedness all through. Left need not be hesitant to plan some subtle move towards the support base of IPFT

  2. Reports says that for the past two years, RSS, deployed their men in tribal areas for the conversion of votes, and proved successful, was the party aware of this,? what was the counter actions, taken places?

  3. Excellent analysis

  4. N.Venugopalrao,Andhra Pradesh

    4th March 2018 — 1:34 pm

    most apt comment that could enlighten and inspire many who continue to believe that communists are alternative to communalists…
    N.Venugopalrao,Andhra Pradesh,[email protected]

  5. Going through above certain points I feel need to be highlighted:
    a) In the previous assembly poll the party had secured 48% of the votes which has thistime come down to 43% – Implies that there has been an erosion of your support base by 5%. My question is why?? One answer that comes to the mind 1st is ofcourse the natural phenomenon of anti-incumbency. But why was it so high all of a sudden & why did it all go to BJP not NOTA.
    b) You have mentioned & rightly so that “It essentially used its immense money power to draw in large numbers of low level and senior level Congress leaders – many of them going through the Trojan Horse of the Trinamul Congress.”. But mind you this doesn’t suffice since the TMC & your other opposition vote nos last election have been been exceeded this time. BJP has secured near about the same %age of votes as you.
    This indicates a large %age of your vote bank has been disenchanted with you. It would be absolutely foolish to think that this has happened only because of the money power of the opposition. Your opposition as per what you have mentioned had secured about 36%+ votes last time & this time the swing against you is 12%.
    It’s time to introspect & you don’t have much time. Otherwise you in Tripura too too will be (almost) wiped out as has happened in WB. Why has the young younger generation gone against you?? Come out of the theoretical discourses & take to the roads. You have lost connect with people & that’s the reality.
    Manan Mitra

  6. Sudipta Roy Choudhury

    4th March 2018 — 5:11 pm

    Excellent write-ups. Please keep posting such relevant articles.

  7. Biswajit Chowdhury

    4th March 2018 — 5:37 pm

    It is heartening to read the article that the cpm has just lost a fight and will live to fight another day. A cader based party like the cpm can take pn the rss thugs head on if they start working and forming the strategies from day one without loosing a day!! Modi might see himself as a big dictator but history has proven that bigger tyrants have fallen by sheer human power!!!

  8. Dr Prashad, I follow you and your commentaries on most of the topics, ranging from your well researched thoughts on the Middle East, to Indian politics. I would urge, the need of the hour, is to organize the Indian left, and coming up with a narrative which can resonate with the masses. We cannot afford, to have another BJP term at the center. If that requires a compromise with the Congress, Trinamool Congress, AAP or JDU so be it. We need to fight out the demon in every possible way. Elections are now being bought, horse trading has become the center stage of democracy. The only way you can defeat this monster is to organize mass movements, and forming alliances (even if may be non-ideal). We need a leaders like you, to be in the forefront of the Indian left , who can articulate the thoughts clearly and connect and communicate with the masses. The way, illogical/unscientific/bigotry can be fought is with logic/science/facts.

    1. Having seen how the Congressites ditched their ally during the last elections in Bengal and how they joined hands even with the Gandhi-killers in Tripura to trounce the CPM, I am at a loss to understand the logic behind the argument for an electoral understanding with it in the three States where the Left has a substantial presence. Maybe, it holds good for other States!

  9. Tapan Kumar Roy

    6th March 2018 — 1:08 am

    Left is now required to concentrate on the base of RSS with ideological battle at ground level and continuously harp on the false promises made by BJP during the campaign. Ex: In Assam minimum wage is Rs.340 is a damn lie, getting a job in Assam with a miss call is a damn lie.Medicines given free in govt. hospital is a damn lie. Scooty to all college going girls a damn lie. Smart phones will be given to all young people is a false promise. The list can be longer. Let BJP keep all its electoral promises, which they will not do. Where is 2 crore job every year? Where is 15 Lacs rupees to all accounts? If left can do this propaganda battle then the lost ground will be regained. RSS must be uprooted from the soil of Tripura. Remember Mandai massacre in eighties, ? This force is now in power. So all out battle against RSS at any cost to be unleashed.RSS is the greatest and most obnoxious elements in India now.

  10. Sambrita Ghatak

    9th March 2018 — 7:52 pm

    But end of the day,the Left must have self speculation .Every point is true,but The left lost 5% votes,and a big chunk of young generation has supported the BJP.So,for doing better in future,we must find out and accept our shortcomings and failures,only showcasing success and ignoring failures won’t help to regain Tripura

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