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TRIPURA 2017: Year that set the stage for a direct Left vs BJP battle

Agartala, December 29 (IANS): In India's 65-year electoral history, the country's dominant Left party, the CPI-M, has never been in direct confrontation with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Political developments in Tripura this year have set the stage for their first face-to-face battle in the February 2018 assembly polls as the saffron outfit has emerged as the key opposition party in this Communist-ruled state.


In what was seen as a shot in the arm less than two months ahead of the assembly elections, the BJP officially entered the Tripura assembly after the Speaker on December 8 recognised six former Trinamool Congress legislators who had defected to the party as BJP members.


They became the BJP members in the assembly since the northeastern state got a legislative body, a 32-member Territorial Council, 60 years ago in 1957.


Expressing confidence about defeating the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) -- headed by four-term Chief Minister Manim Sarkar, who has been in power in the state since 1998 -- state BJP President Biplab Kumar Deb said that Tripura would be the country's 20th state to be ruled by the BJP and its allies.


"Today, the BJP, along with its partners, is in control of 19 of the 29 states in India. Some 65 to 68 per cent of India's population resides in these 19 states," Deb told IANS.


"Due to misgovernance, corruption, crime against women and a record political murders, the BJP's growth in Tripura in 2017 was incomparable. Based on this growth and with the 'Prati Ghare Rojgar, Prati Ghare Modi Sarkar' (employment in each household, Modi government in every household) slogan, the BJP will form the government in the state after February's elections," Deb maintained.


The 47-year-old BJP leader said his party would help the people to live without fear, express themselves through freedom of speech, remove poverty and ensure zero tolerance of crime against women.


According to BJP leaders, over 25,000 supporters of other parties, including the CPI-M, joined the BJP in 2017 while over 30 party leaders, including central ministers and MPs, took part in the campaign in Tripura as the saffron party in its National Executive had set a target to capture the state.


Political analyst and writer Sekhar Datta said that in the outgoing year it had become explicitly clear that the Congress had become insignificant and that the BJP would take its place next February.


"Since 1952, the Congress has played a considerable role. But, for the first time, it would fight for the third or at best second position in the polls," Datta told IANS.


The Congress strength has been reduced to three in the 60-member assembly from the original 10 as six of its members quit, joined the Trinamool Congress and then the BJP. Another Congress MLA joined the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).


On their part, the ruling party's leaders are confident that a Left Front government would be formed next February as a record 15,335 voters of other parties joined the CPI-M in 2017.


Referring to French Emperor Napoleon's final defeat by a combined force of the British and the Prussians in 1815, CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said: "The BJP would be stopped in Tripura in its continuing (string of) election victories and this would be its Waterloo."


"The BJP formed governments in Manipur and Goa (earlier this year) by using money power and illegal means. They would use all methods to win in Tripura as they have declared that Left-ruled states, including Kerala, are their main targets," Yechury told IANS.


However, the Left Front government found itself in an awkward position after the Supreme Court on March 29 upheld a Tripura High Court verdict terminating the jobs of 10,323 government school teachers, citing irregularities.
But, in a fresh order on December 14, the apex court extended the termination deadline to June 30 next year instead of December 31, 2017.


Another jolt during the year was when the tribal Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT) blocked the vital National Highway-8, the state's lifeline, and the lone railway line for more than 10 days in July to demand a separate homeland, causing an acute shortage of essential items and much hardship to the people.


The IPFT has been agitating since 2009 for upgrading the existing Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) into a separate tribal state.


Almost all major political parties, including the Left Front, Congress, the BJP and other tribal parties have rejected the demand, saying it is not practical to divide the small state.


As in the previous few years, Tripura, once ravaged by four-and-a-half decades of terrorism, remained free of any militancy-related incidents in 2017, defending its hard-earned peace.