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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 16 New Delhi April 7, 2018

Why Myopic Left Lost Tripura

Saturday 7 April 2018

by Sankar Ray

Who says the Communist Party of India-Marxist or the Left Front was defeated in the Tripura State Assembly polls in 2018 by the combine of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura?

The overwhelming majority of 2.3 million-plus voters “voted with their feet”, to quote Vladimir Illyich Lenin, who quipped following the collapse of the Russian military machine in World War I, when thousands of soldiers, hungry for days, deserted the Army to return home after March 1917. Lenin said, they marked their ballots not with pen or pencil, but with feet that took them out of the lines and brought them home.

However, neither the biggies at Agartala’s Dasarath Deb Bhavan, the seat of the State Committee of the CPI-M of Tripura, nor the mandarins at New Delhi’s A. K. Gopalan Bhavan, the national headquarters of the party, have the sense of reality that the Bharatiya Janata Party, characterised by the Senegalese Marxist economist Samir Amin as the “Hindu comprador Right”, teaming up with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura did strip naked on July 12, 2017 during a road and rail blockade movement demanding Tipraland and cashed in largely on non-performance of the CPI-M-led Left Front Government to slap a stunning catastrophe on what the official Left (not the CPI-M alone) thought was the impregnable fortress of the CPI-M.

The LF Chairman and State CPI-M Secretary, Bijan Dhar, in a five-part article in Desher Katha, the party’s Bengali morninger, resorted to a laboured argument to say in a somewhat imposing way that the defeat of the LF was inexplicable, although cynics, who are mentally shattered after the debacle of the Left, dump it as a rigmarole. Even in 1951, the undivided Communist Party of India won both the seats from Tripura: Dasarath Deb from Tripura East and Birendra Chandra Dutt from Tripura West won with big margins, getting 53.9 per cent and 68.84 per cent of the valid votes respectively. A mistaken impression is in currency that the average difference in votes between the CPI-M and BJP was very small: in 48 seats that the BJP contested it received 20,814 votes on an average against 17,724 votes in 56 seats fought by the CPI-M candidates.

Dhar told newspersons after the poll that the probability of the LF’s return to power was 99.99 per cent. On March 2, a day before the counting, he and another CPI-M CC member, Badal Chowdhury, a Minister of the last government, issued a statement that the eighth LF Government would surely be formed.

However, Dhar had the moral courage to state after the ignominious defeat that the “results appear to us as somewhat inconsistent with” base-level information.

The CPI-M State chief made three interesting revelations inter alia. One, this time voting in Tripura was subordinated to the BJP’s helping domestic and foreign corporates to “aggressively grab national wealth resources”.

Two, there has been a major erosion of influence of the Communists in traditional Adivasi strongholds where the LF had lost with big margins. It won in three out of 20 ST seats. Three, the LF got less than 34 per cent of the postal ballots and in only one of the 59 constituencies it got more votes than the BJP-IPFT alliance. In all, but one seat, the alliance got much more votes than the LF. These observations seem a candid confession. Dhar conceded that the LF had got 1,30,086 votes less than the BJP-IPFT combine.

Eighty-year-old IPFT chief Narendra Debbarma defeated the CPI-M candidate, Ramendra Debbarma, from Takarjala (ST) seat by nearly 13,000 votes, the largest margin in this election, although the CPI-M polling agents were forced to quit under threat from at least six polling booths by the BJP-IPFT agents.

The CPI-M defeated the IPFT from Manu (ST) constituency by less than 200 votes.

Manindra Reang, a Minister of the last government, was defeated by almost 2500 votes by little known Pramod Reang of the BJP from Santirbajar (ST) constituency which is where the historic Reang Rebellion (1943-45) took place.

Another Minister, Aghore Debbarma, also a CC member, was mauled by Mevar Kr Jamatia in the Asharambari (ST) seat by about 7000 votes. Both these Ministers are prominent State Committee members.

Hats off to the local media that predicted what a sizable section of veteran political analysts (including this humble scribe—although not in print fortunately) brushed aside as a miracle or more-than-the-lonescone absurd drama.

How could Sebak Bhattacharya, Managing Director of Vanguard News—one of the channels that projected, based on independent and separate exit polls, at the most 14 to 29 seats to the LF—say: “There is an unprecedented anti-Left wave amongst the youth according to our ground report and new female tribal voters and government employees!” He went on to add that people “want change. The anti-incumbency factor will reflect on the EVM, and the BJP might cross the Left. Otherwise it will be neck and neck. Our data shows over 65 per cent of the youth has voted for the BJP.”

Sunil Deodhar, the RSS pracharak-turned-BJP-poll-strategist, stated with confidence six months ago that the saffron alliance would bag 40 or more seats although the party had no MLA in the last legislature.

“The campaign has not fallen from the sky. For the last two to two-and-a-half-years, we have worked hard. I had RSS training. That experience also helped. It is only in the last six months or so that disgruntled CPI-M workers have begun joining us.”

The LF’s failure in trying to cash in on former Chief Minister Manik Sarkar’s image as “the poorest Chief Minister” and the media hype thereof is a lesson. Seven-fold rise in registered unemployment—now estimated at 700,000 (at least 40 per cent of adult population)—during his era reflects a glaring mismatch between honesty and performance.

But it cannot be said that the LF Government’s commitment to the canons of integrity and transparency was unflinching, The LF Govern-ment’s appointment of 10,323 teachers in 2010 and 2013—1100 post graduates, 4617 graduates and 4606 undergraduates—was in contravention of the Right to Education Act, 2009 that set out obligatory qualifications.

Which was why on May 7, 2014, a Division Bench of the Tripura High Court, in response to 58 petitions, terminated the services of these teachers. The HC noted that the State Government did not follow the National Council for Teachers Education guidelines, laid down in 2001, while recruiting them. Later, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court upheld the order.

The dismissed teachers, formed an association of 10,323 teachers, and called on the then State Education Minister, Tapan Chakraborty, who purportedly tried to circumvent the Supreme Court’s order by announcing the recruitment of 12,000 non-teaching staff in the Education Department to accommodate them.

There was a contempt petition against this decision before the Apex Court which dissuaded the LF Government in a rebuking tone. The SC asked the State Government to initiate a fresh recruitment policy under the Teachers Eligibility Test as prescribed under the RTE Act by May 31 and complete the process by December 31, but in vain. The BJP cashed in on this shameful goof-up by the CPI-M.

The Trivedi Centre for Political Data at the Ashoka University under the supervision of Gilles Verniers, Assistant Professor of Political Science and co-director, TCPD, Basim-U-Nissa, Mohit Kumar, Ashish Ranjan and Sudesh Kumar, brought out a comprehensive analysis about the collapse of the LF. “In 2018, both CPI-M and BJP totalled 85.7 per cent of the total vote-share....The CPI-M lost 33 seats out of the 46 it previously held. Its presence is reduced to the two geographical extremities of the State—in the northern-most districts and alongside the western border with Bangladesh, in the Shipahijala and the South Tripura districts,” it inferred.

On the total collapse of the Congress—plummeting of vote-share from 35 to two per cent—the TCPD scan concurred with the general impression that voters had lost “all hope in the Congress Party and whoever wished to oppose the Left transferred their vote to the BJP. The rise of the BJP exceeds the decline of the Congress, as it gained five more percentage points than the Congress lost. This confirms the notion that the BJP succeeded in becoming the main opposition to the Left for a broad range of voters.” The Congress actually helped the BJP win. Had the Congress put up a fight, they might have retained some of their voters, arguably, which would have prevented the BJP from sweeping this election and “convert 43 per cent of vote-share into nearly 60 per cent of the seats, a smaller majority than those obtained by the CPI-M since 1993”.

But it is a waste of time to argue with those who believe that the Left succumbed to excessive use of money and muscle power. Statewide violence, intimidation and extortion, aimed at the CPI-M and its supporters after March 3 are true, but all this is not unthinkable.

The CPI-M too had such sanguinary campaigns in West Bengal, even presently in Kerala, directed against the Opposition. But why did Khowai, the region known as the cradle of communism in Tripura, too reject the Marxists?

Why did the LF get less than 34 per cent of postal votes that were cast mostly by government employees and teachers who together have traditionally been the vote-bank of the CPI-M?

Some thought that voters would be polarised between Bengali and Adivasi voters. Adivasis comprise around 30 per cent of electorate. But the very perception of Bengali-Adivasi divide is politically naïve.

George Orwell had rightly said about the possibility of changing mindsets of so-called Communists during the Stalin era that it’s futile to “try to teach a parrot a new word”.

The author is a veteran journalist and commentator. This article is a slightly expanded version of the one carried in The Statesman (published on March 31, 2018) and sent by the author for publication in this journal.

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