Advantage Left In Tripura, But EVM Alert

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The ruling Left Front in Tripura has asked its polling agents and cadres to ensure a mock demonstration of every single EVM in the state before elections start for the 60-member state assembly today (18th Feb).

Considerably worried over unconfirmed reports that an Assam BJP leader has covert links to technicians in companies that maintain the EVMs and many of them could be programmed to ensure every click on it generates a vote for the saffrons, the Left has asked its cadres to maintain utmost vigilance and push presiding officers to do mock demos for checking the machines.

Voters outside of a polling station

Already one EVM in Ompi in south Tripura is said to have generated fifty votes all in favour of BJP during mock trial on Saturday.

“This has sent panic in Left rank, as they feel a sweeping verdict like Assam may be on its way in Tripura,” said a top CPI(M) leader, but he was unwilling to be named.

The Left is not displaying any nerve but would take no chances. Wherever EVMs behave funnily during mock trials, their agents will force repolls with paper ballots. Such delays will work to the Left’s advantage as the BJP and its ally IPFT does not have the party organisation for a long bruising battle.

The party has also decided to target Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma after reports that loads of cash trunks were being flown into Tripura from Guwahati in a last minute bid to buy votes – especially after Sarma’s ministerial colleague Pallabh Lochan Das was caught with cash.

Left’s own surveys suggest a comfortable victory, albeit with a reduced margin, anything between 40 to 45 seats. But one survey suggests the Left may win but with a hugely reduced margin, predicting 33 seats for it against 24 of the BJP – IPFT alliance.


This has sent panic in Left rank, as they feel a sweeping verdict like Assam may be on its way in Tripura – said a top CPI(M) leader


If that were so, the Left would be vulnerable to Sarma’s machinations a la Manipur.

“But if we fall short of that, we have to watch Himanta because he is one politician capable of doing a Manipur. Our legislators are not saleable but we will not take any chances,” said another CPI(M) leader. But both were unwilling to be quoted because they were not authorised by the party to talk to the media.

Left spokesperson Gautam Das predicted a comfortable victory but did not discount ‘considerable mischief’ at various levels.

“We are prepared for everything,” Das said in a terse reply to media persons. Despite the drum beating by Himanta Biswa Sarma and his team, senior BJP leaders were only expecting to do well.

Sacked Returning Officer (RO) of West Tripura Tamal Majumder

Party sources say a Bengal BJP leader has betted on the party getting 15 seats – the more conservative party leaders would be happy to hit double digits in an assembly where the party is yet to open its account.

The 20 tribal seats may return a lot of IPFT candidates, even cross double digits despite the obvious division of tribal votes, because of their pitch for a separate Twipra Land that is likely to endear them to young tribals.

But Himanta’s pitch to send CM Manik Sarkar to Bangladesh if the Left loses has touched a raw nerve with the majority non-tribals of East Bengali origin.

“There could well be a polarisation of Bengali votes,” said commentator Sitrangshu Ranjan Dey.

Tripura on poll with 307 candidates contesting for 59 of its 60 constituencies. Voting in Charilam Assembly constituency will be held on March 12 due to the death of the CPM candidate for the seat. A resurgent BJP has ensured that this is the closest electoral contest Tripura has seen in a while, and authorities are apprehensive of violence. State Director General of Police Akhil Kumar Shukla said tight security measures were in place, with 300 companies of central armed forces deployed across the state along with the state armed personnel and police.

The BJP is banking on its alliance with the regional tribal party Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), to see it through in the 20 tribal seats. The IPFT is contesting 9 seats in the polls, with the BJP the remaining 51. “The IPFT – BJP alliance will sweep the 20 (tribal) seats and wipe out the CPM,” claims BJP Tripura prabhari Sunil Deodhar. “People from all parties in the areas have joined us. There are four tribal leaders in our core committee here. We have included tribal leaders in all our morchas and not just our tribal morcha, so that they are well-represented. We have given them respect within the party. And we have carried out andolans in these areas raising issues that are pertinent to the community,” Deodhar says.

The CPM’s hold in the tribal areas goes back to the late 1940s, when Tripura was ravaged by famine after WW-II. At the time, the Left helped tribals organise themselves into an uprising against the administration, leading to the formation of the Tripurar Upajatai Ganamukti Parishad, later known simply as the Ganamukti Parishad or GMP. But things are changing with the younger generation. “I have a BA and there are no jobs in sight. Most people in these areas don’t have jobs. My grandparents are illiterate and my parents aren’t well-educated, but if they didn’t get jobs, neither did I. Then what is the difference in this state between getting an education and not having one?” says Samir Debbarma, a son of Jumia in Taidu.


one survey suggests the Left may win but with a hugely reduced margin, predicting 33 seats for it against 24 of the BJP – IPFT alliance. If that were so, the Left would be vulnerable to Sarma’s machinations a la Manipur


Amal Debbarma (31) will be voting for the CPM, but his three siblings for the IPFT. Amal says he will go with the CPM again as he “feels bad” for the party. “But there has been little development. Lot of villages don’t have clean drinking water and many people still don’t have homes. I am voting for the CPM because at least someone in the family should vote for them.”

In the last election, CPM candidate Niranjan Debbarma had won Takarjhala by a narrow 1,207 votes, against the INPT (Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra). Both the IPFT and BJP had a mere 600-odd votes then. However, since then, the INPT has ceded the tribal space to the IPFT.

In another tribal constituency, Bagma, the INPT’s Jyotish Jamatia says the IPFT has gained from its tie-up with the BJP. “Their stance of demanding a separate state has also helped it among the tribal youth. This is an emotional issue, but it is a ploy. The tribals feel left behind, we have a high percentage of dropouts from schools and high unemployment, but we are against a separate state as we don’t want Tripura to be divided,” Jamatia says.

He also believes that the CPM stands a good chance in the 20 tribal seats, and that the IPFT – BJP alliance will not get as many seats as it anticipates. “We may not win, but we will ensure that we cut into the IPFT vote,” says Jamatia, adding, “None of the Assembly constituencies is purely tribal in Tripura; most also have large segments of Bengali voters. With the IPFT demanding a separate state, the Bengali voter in the tribal areas is likely to vote against them and for the CPM.”

The Bengali wariness over the demand for a separate state had prompted BJP president Amit Shah to recently announce that “Triperaland and a separate state is out of the question”. The BJP will not allow Tripura to be divided, he said.

Explaining his reasons to stick with the CPM, Subhash Debbarma (36), a farmer and a father of two from Ramanipara village in Golaghati Assembly constituency, says, “In one of the ADC (Autonomous District Council) elections in 2005, we voted the INPT to power, but got no benefits. So many of us are done with the regional tribal parties. The CPM is our safest choice.” ■

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