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Having secured historic electoral victory in 2018 against the 25 years of the CPI(M) rule, BJP is all set to win Tripura again. Our field-study in all the 60 assembly constituencies revealed six trends on the ground, signifying the decisive edge the saffron party enjoys over the opposition parties.

First, contrary to the popular assumption of a triangular electoral contest taking rounds, the state is going to witness a two-party contest between the BJP and Tipra Motha, a pro-tribal party, led by King Pradyot Manikya Deb Barma, thereby relegating the CPM-Congress alliance to a poor third spot.

Second, defying the old trend of going for party based electoral support, the voting choices are primarily on the ethnic lines between the tribals and the Bengalis. Therein, while the STs are intensely consolidated behind the Tipra Motha, the BJP is the default choice of an overwhelming section of the Bengali voters. Further, the translation of ethnic fault line into electoral choices doesn’t affect the BJP’s comfortable position. Out of total 60 assembly constituencies, 20 seats are reserved for the Tribals, though only 13 seats therein have ST majority. Thus, besides 40 general seats, the BJP is also a serious contender in the remaining 7 seats.

Third, the much talked about alliance between the two old hostile parties of the state, the CPI(M) and the Congress is not only a non-starter in the state but rather has ended up alienating the remaining base of the Congress voters who allegedly suffered undue violence and atrocities under 25 years of the Left rule from 1993-2018. Our study found those Congress voters shifting to the BJP. In nutshell, the CPI(M)-Congress alliance/Jot is coming together of the leaders, with no resonance with the respective voters. There is no chemistry to the mathematics of the opposition alliance on the ground.

Four, the prime opposition party, the CPI(M) is witnessing an existential crisis as the party is likely to witness a colossal fall in its seat tally on account of ageing leadership, losing entire support base among the Tribals and having little resonance with the Bengali electorates. This leaves only the Muslims, accounting for near 8 percent of the state population, as Left’s likely voters as they perceive BJP being discriminatory and Tipra Motha as a Tribal party. Hence, CPI(M) may win seats like Boxanagar assembly constituency in Sipahijala district where Bengali Muslims are electoral majority.

Five, the perennial Tribal question of Tripura has acquired the centerstage in the electoral arena. The STs who became a demographic minority in the state after their merger with India in 1949 have been demanding a separate state of their own¬–an issue represented by different tribal platforms and leaders at different juncture. However, this time, there is a shift in the nature as well as the intensity of the demand. Now, the main claimant of the tribal issue in the form of demand for Greater Tipraland is led by Tipra Motha wherein the scion of the Tripura royalty, King Pradyot Manikya Deb Barma, has taken up the mantle of the cause himself. This marks a shift in the nature of the tribal question as the King leading from the front, leading to an immense unity among the STs across the state. On a positive note, the approach of Pradyot Manikya has been of non-agitational unlike the rabble-rouser natured tribal leadership of the past. Thus, while there is a near consolidation across different tribes behind Tipra Motha, there is no ethnic violence this time.

Lastly, there is a differential reception of the BJP, both among different tribal communities and the Bengali voters. While there is a near consolidation of the STs behind the Tipra Motha, in general they are not hostile to the ruling party. Their support to the tribal party is more on account of relatability to the King Pradyot Maikya and his call for THANSA, meaning unity among different section and factions of the tribes. While the concept of THANSA is working on the ground, the BJP enjoys the tribal goodwill without their electoral support. In fact, a section of Buddhist STs like Chakma and Mogs who are numerically weak, may end up voting to the ruling party. Further, among the Bengali voters, unlike 2018, there is not much enthusiasm about the saffron party. Nevertheless, they chose to support the incumbent as they find a significant change in the political culture of the state from the Left rule when all arenas of people’s life were under CPI(M)’s gaze and control with no space to dissent and discrimination on party lines. At present, while there is complaint about the unfulfilled promises on the material plank and about the arrogance of a section of the local BJP leaders, they find the government far better than the Left rule for not forcing the people to attend incessant political procession (Michil) and paying political donations (chanda)¬–something the Left rule has been notorious for. Coupled with that, the popularity of Modi is immense, making an overwhelming majority of Bengalis voters preferer the saffron party despite complaints.
Thus, BJP is all set to win the election on its own comfortably.

(The authors are associated with PRACCIS, a Delhi based Research Institution.)

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