New Delhi: The Trinamool Congress (TMC) may have left its mark in the Tripura civic polls, the results of which were declared late last month, but the untold story of the election was the virtual decimation of the Congress, which was the principal Opposition party until three years ago.
In the municipal election last month, the Congress secured two per cent of the vote, a steep fall from the 25 per cent it managed in the December 2015 civic polls. In the last municipal polls, the party had won 13 wards. This year, it drew a blank.
There are 334 wards across 14 urban bodies in the state, of which the BJP won 112 uncontested and 222 went to the polls. Of the 222, the BJP won 217 with a voteshare of 59 per cent, the CPI(M) won three seats while the TMC and the Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (Tipra) shared a seat each.
In the 2013 Tripura assembly elections, which the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or the CPI(M) won by a thumping majority, the Congress won six seats and secured a voteshare of 36.5 per cent.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the party did not win any of the two seats in the state but its voteshare was pegged at 15.2 per cent — remaining the second largest. While the CPI(M) retained its position as the largest party, the BJP managed 5.7 per cent of the vote, poll data showed.
In the 2015 municipal polls in the state, the Congress still remained the principal Opposition with a voteshare of 25.3 per cent. While the CPI(M) remained the largest party in terms of seats and voteshare, the BJP by then was in the ascendancy, recording a voteshare of 14 per cent.
It slipped to the third position in 2018 as the BJP won the assembly election to form its first ever government in the state and the CPI(M) was voted out.
Congress’ downward spiral
The Congress’ declining trend began from 2015, with the party, since then, witnessing rough ups and downs.
Its voteshare in the 2018 assembly polls dropped to 1.79 per cent, forcing it to introspect and chalk out new strategies. The BJP had won the polls with 36 of the state’s 60 assembly seats and a voteshare of 43.6 per cent.
The CPI(M), which had led the state for over two decades, won 16 seats but, with a voteshare of 44.35 per cent, it provided neck-to-neck competition to the BJP. The Congress moved to the third position.
Before the 2019 general elections, the Congress appointed royal scion Pradyot Kishore Manikya Debbarma as its state chief. In the Lok Sabha polls, the party’s voteshare went up to 25.3 per cent, higher than the 15.2 per cent voteshare it had secured in 2014, regaining the number two spot in terms of vote share for a brief period.
This, several party workers said, was because of Debbarma’s loyal vote-base of tribals among the indigenous communities in Tripura. Debbarma eventually quit the Congress over differences concerning leadership and launched the TIPRA.
After the party’s crushing defeat in this year’s municipal polls, top party leaders say they are strengthening the cadre while also accusing the BJP of rigging.
“Our party has seen several ups and downs recently. A person with no political expertise (referring to Piyush Biswas, who quit the party in August 2021) was made president before I was given charge,” said Tripura Congress chief Birajit Sinha.
“However, we are now training our cadres at the grassroot level. The BJP is involved in massive poll rigging and people will see the true face of (TMC chief) Mamata Banerjee eventually. We will make a good comeback.”
The party’s only stronghold (if it can be called one) remains Kailashahr in Unakoti district, where it secured a voteshare of 13 per cent, higher than in other urban bodies. Even so, it was much lower than the BJP’s 53 per cent, and 29.2 per cent of the CPI(M).
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TMC number 2 by voteshare in seats contested
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) was majorly invested in the 2021 municipal polls and the party wants to make it big in the state — which has a significant Bengali-speaking population — in the 2023 assembly polls, said Rajya Sabha MP Sushmita Dev.
A member of the TMC’s steering committee for Tripura, Dev played a significant role in poll campaigns. Dev left the Congress earlier this year and joined the TMC.
The party did not have a councilor in the northeast state till now, let alone an MLA or an MP, even though it contested the 2015 municipal polls, the 2018 assembly polls and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Tripura. Its voteshare failed to cross 0.4 per cent.
Cut to 2021, the TMC scored an overall voteshare of 16.4 per cent — if all the 222 seats that went to the polls are considered. While the BJP managed 59 per cent, the CPI(M) accounted for 18.13 per cent, and the Congress 2.07 per cent overall, election data showed.
The TMC, however, contested only 120 of those 222 seats.
Data for those 120 wards shows the Trinamool as the second-biggest party — with a voteshare of 19.9 per cent, which is significantly lower than the BJP’s 57 per cent but marginally higher than the CPI(M)’s 16.8 per cent. In those 120 seats, the Congress’ voteshare comes down to 1.74 per cent.
The Congress and the CPI(M) did not field candidates in several of those seats. While the CPI(M) contested in 192 seats, the Congress fought on 92.
“We look at these numbers as a massive gain. We have done major work in the state for only three months. Before that, our presence was negligible,” Dev said. “Plus, there was violence and poll-rigging by the BJP. We are strengthening our cadres and in 2023 assembly elections we will definitely go big and stand victorious.”
A close look at the data for the 120 seats the TMC contested suggests that the party has captured a share of everyone’s pie in different scales. Compared against the overall figures (for 222 seats), the data for 120 seats shows the BJP’s voteshare decreasing by around 1.9 percentage points, that of CPI(M) by 1.32 percentage points and the Congress’ 0.33 percentage points.
With TMC’s entry, the Congress has now moved to number four in Tripura.
BJP is dominant
In the 2015 Tripura municipal polls, the BJP secured a voteshare of 14 per cent, even though it failed to shake the Congress from the second position.
The CPI(M) won 278 of 310 wards that went to the polls, with a voteshare of over 60 per cent, poll data shows.
Eventually, the BJP gained massive popularity, winning the 2018 assembly polls in the state with 43.6 per cent of the votes, improving it to 49 per cent in the Lok Sabha polls of 2019.
The CPI(M) has witnessed a significant decline too, even though it is not as severely crushed as the Congress at this point.
The Left party managed 44.35 per cent of votes in the 2018 assembly polls and 17.3 per cent votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, which was lower than the voteshare of the Congress for the first time ever, poll data showed.
In the 2021 municipal polls, senior CPI(M) Tripura leader and former minister, Pabitra Kar, said the party has managed to maintain its loyal vote base and, in the coming time, it plans to expand. While he alleged poll rigging and hooliganism by the BJP which, he said, stopped many loyal Left voters from casting votes, he also expressed concerns over Opposition votes getting further divided in the state with the TMC’s entry.
His concerns reflect in the numbers.
The TMC, CPI(M) and Congress’ collective voteshare surpassed that of the BJP in several wards across the state, especially in Agartala, Sonamura Nagar and Ambasa in Dhalai.
“As a party, we are doing our best to recover significantly in Tripura. But we need to have a clear picture of TMC’s larger game-plan with Mamata Banerjee expanding her footprints across several states,” Kar said. “In Agartala, if we take out 6-7 wards, we have a neck-to-neck competition with the TMC.”
Agartala (with 51 wards that went to the polls), the biggest urban region in the state that borders Bangladesh, became the only one in which the TMC stood second and the CPI(M) third.
This is an updated version of the report
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)
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