With barely two months to go for the Assembly election, Tripura is witnessing hectic political activity. While the Bharatiya Janata Party has firmly established its position as the primary challenger to the ruling Left Front over the last few years, the Congress may be staging a late comeback.
On a comeback trail?
Last week saw around 1,000 Congress renegades, led by the influential leader Mujibar Islam, make their way back to the party. Most of them had joined the Trinamool Congress last year to protest against the Congress’s alliance with the Left Front for the West Bengal Assembly election. Tapan Dutta, who had joined the BJP in August from the Trinamool Congress, also rejoined the Congress on Friday.
Tapas Dey, vice president of the Congress in Tripura, claimed several other leaders had rejoined the party in smaller batches through the week and many political heavyweights, including former lawmakers, were likely to join over the next few weeks. “We are in talks with many important leaders,” he said. “And I can say with certainty some big shots will be back with us very soon.”
There has been talk of the Congress gaining ground since the party won the bye-election to the North Dhanicherra village committee of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council in late November. It took 197 votes against the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s 181. The BJP managed only 24 votes and lost its deposit.
In the 2013 Assembly election, the Congress, with nine seats, had emerged as the primary opposition to the CPI(M), which had won all the other 51 seats. In 2016, six of the Congress legislators defected to the Trinamool, which they later left for the BJP. In effect, as the Congress’s strength waned, the BJP’s increased sharply.
So, are their fortunes reversing now?
Too little, too late?
Analysts contend the Congress’s latest surge may be too little, too late. Dismissing the party’s claim of a comeback, the veteran Agartala-based journalist Manas Paul said the Congress has become a “non-existent entity” in the state. “It is very much a two-horse race currently,” he said. “For the first time, voters in the state have an alternative to the Left and it is the BJP. As of now, the two parties are almost neck and neck.”
Asked about the Congress predicting more last-minute defections from the saffron party, BJP spokesperson Mrinal Kanti Deb said, “A few insignificant leaders may have gone, but no state-level leader will leave the party.”
Some BJP officials, though, said ticket distribution could spark disaffection in the coming weeks. “It is obvious that not all former MLAs who have joined the party recently can be given tickets,” said a state BJP leader who asked not to be named. “That happens in every election, but we will deal with that when the time comes. So far, there is no decision on who will get tickets and who won’t.”