|(Left) Congress supporters gather outside a burnt-down booth office and poll officials carry out EVMs in Agartala on Wednesday. (PTI, AFP)
Agartala, Feb. 13: Clashes between Congress and CPM supporters were reported from several parts of Tripura this morning, as the government deployed security forces to ensure smooth elections tomorrow.
The state’s 23,55,446-strong electorate will exercise its franchise from 7am till 4pm to elect the ninth Assembly.
Today, clashes were reported from Sabroom constituency in South Tripura district, Karoimura under Bishalgarh constituency in West district and Khayerpur constituency, also in West district. The Congress candidate from Khayerpur, Baptu Chakraborty, alleged that CPM cadres had set two of his booth offices on fire, besides injuring five of his workers. “I have reported the matter to the election office and police. I’m expecting action to be taken,” he said.
CPM office secretary Haripada Das, however, alleged that Congress workers had been trying to foment trouble, “sensing imminent defeat”.
It was in anticipation of this sort of trouble that 50,000 paramilitary and police personnel were deployed in the state to ensure smooth polling. The commission has identified 32 “hyper-sensitive” and 112 “very sensitive” polling stations, vulnerable to insurgent violence and political clashes. The BSF has sealed the state’s 856km border with Bangladesh in accordance with an Election Commission directive.
Tripura chief electoral officer Ashutosh Jindal said the polling time could be extended beyond 4pm in case voters had problems using electronic voting machines. “In the 2008 Assembly polls, voting had continued till 11pm in certain polling stations because the voters had not been able to press buttons on the EVMs within the scheduled period,” he said. This had happened because an abnormally high number of voters had turned up on polling day.
Polling percentage has always been high in Tripura (more than 80 per cent). In the 2008 Assembly polls, it was a record 92 per cent. Observers attributed the high turnout to a high level of political consciousness among people because of Leftist influence. Since the mid-forties of the last century, the Leftists have been steadily gaining ground in Tripura but since the advent of the Left Front in 1978, people’s livelihood issues have been linked to political loyalty. This has resulted in hyper-activism among the people, especially during Assembly polls.
Election department sources said tomorrow’s polling, too, should see a high turnout.
Though the Left Front is confident of retaining power, the Congress is hoping for a change, banking on the commitments made in its manifesto and by Union finance minister P. Chidambaram and AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi in eight election rallies over the past three days. The late surge by the Congress, based on its populist manifesto, which promises to supply 35 kg PDS rice to the poor at Re 1 per kg and 7 kg free PDS rice to the poorest of the poor; to implement the recommendations of the Sixth Central Pay Commission for the state’s 1.63 lakh employees; and laptops for students who will secure first division in the higher secondary exam conducted by the Tripura Board of Secondary Education, among other things, has given a boost to the party’s lacklustre campaign earlier.
CPM state secretary Bijan Dhar said the Left Front would give state employees salaries equivalent to central pay after returning to power.
In the outgoing 60-seat Assembly, the Left Front has 49 seats (CPM 46, RSP 2 and CPI 1) and the Opposition Congress 10 while its ally INPT is represented by its president Bijay Kumar Hrangkhawal. No other party is likely to make any impact in tomorrow’s election. However, NCT president Animesh Debbarma, who is contesting the Ramchandra Ghat (ST) seat as an Independent, is a key contestant.
While chief minister Manik Sarkar said, “Forming the seventh Left Front government is only a matter of time”, PCC president Sudip Roy Barman said, “I have done my best, our party leaders and workers have also worked hard. Going by the massive response we evoked, I am sure we will unseat the Left Front and secure at least 35 seats”.