Warning bells: discontent in Tripura BJP
The rumbles of discontent in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Tripura hold a drum roll of warnings for the electorate in Bengal. With assembly elections coming up, the Trinamul Congress in Bengal is pulling out all the stops, following a surge in defections and the BJP’s strident voice growing shriller.
It would be worthwhile to take a look at what is happening in Tripura, where the BJP unceremoniously toppled a well-entrenched Left Front government in February 2018.
In barely three years, schisms have surfaced in the ruling BJP government. Last month, party workers raised slogans against the chief minister, Biplab Kumar Deb, chanting “Biplab hatao, Tripura bachao” during the visit of the new state in-charge, Vinod Kumar Sonkar. The chief minister had called for “public opinion” at an event to decide whether he should stay, but this was subsequently called off on orders from a Central BJP leader.
A veteran BJP leader told me from Agartala on January 14 that given the trend in Tripura, “voters in Bengal should be careful. We had sought change and were swayed by BJP promises. But known thieves are better than unknown dacoits. The Vajpayee-Advani ideology has been replaced by corporate-style politics that is unbearable for veterans like us. The people of Bengal should think twice. The BJP has no chief ministerial face, the leaders are inexperienced and those in Delhi lack knowledge of local culture. Let Bengal not make the same blunder.”
Adding to this discordant view, Tripura Congress vice-president, Tapas Dey, said over the phone that the promises the BJP had made on jobs and of implementing the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations had remained unfulfilled. “The people are wary and across society, the feeling is that they were better off under CPI(M) rule,” he said. “Infighting has become rampant, because the BJP cobbled together a ministry with rebels from other parties. Former Congressmen, who are now BJP legislators, are proclaiming the BJP’s misdeeds! There is no semblance of law and order or democratic norms, the chief minister is holding on to 27 portfolios, including health, which is in a shambles,” he pointed out.
According to Dey, the Tripura government now outsources work for which local skill is available. “The BJP launched a hugely publicized anti-drugs campaign. Now ganja is out but tablets are readily available. Suicides are on the rise, and like the farmers protesting in Delhi, 10,323 ad hoc teachers who lost their jobs (following a Supreme Court directive, but the BJP had promised to restore these) have been sitting on a dharna in Agartala for over 40 days. Bengal should not make the same mistake,” he stressed.
When I visited Tripura for the 2018 polls, I had met Sunil Deodhar, the BJP national secretary considered instrumental in turning the tide of political opinion. Last week, he was ensconced in Tirupati, overseeing by-elections in Andhra Pradesh where he is the party’s co-in-charge.
When I asked about the difference he saw in Bengal and Tripura, he said, “In Tripura, the major issue was anti-incumbency, in Bengal there is an additional factor: appeasement of Muslims. While the CPI(M) in Bengal also resorted to Muslim appeasement, they were never viewed by Hindu voters as blatantly pro-Muslim.”
A disgruntled voter in Tripura rued that the CPI(M), especially former chief minister, Manik Sarkar, was not turning the current infighting in the BJP to the party’s advantage. “In a similar situation in 1977, erstwhile chief minister, Nripen Chakraborty (at the helm from 1978 to 1988), had been able to catapult the Left to power,” he said.
With elections drawing near in Bengal, poll sops are the order of the day, while the lure of lucre will hold centre-stage. After all, this great Indian democracy is a pantomime every state customizes, invariably to its cost.