Post-poll violence has plunged Tripura into disarray – yet again. At least three people have died since the results of the Lok Sabha elections were declared on May 23 in incidents that the local press claims are the consequences of political rivalry.

Hundreds lay injured in hospitals across the state, according to opposition parties. On Wednesday, the state’s chief minister Biplab Deb of the Bharatiya Janata Party
issued an appeal to “all political parties to extend co-operation to end the violence”.

The BJP, which stormed to power in Tripura in 2018 dislodging the Communist Party of India (Marxist), won both of the state’s parliamentary seats. The Congress finished second, and the incumbent Left was reduced to a distant third.

The police, however, insist that the deaths were for “other reasons”. “They are not connected to political parties – underlying issue is something different,” said a senior police officer from the state who did not want to be named.

Opposition blame BJP

The CPI (M) and Congress, for their part, have blamed BJP workers for unleashing violence after the party’s victory. “After the elections, they have vandalised more than 15 of our offices, our workers and their property have been targeted during their victory processions,” claimed Pabitra Kar, a senior leader of the Left party. “Every day it is happening and not only us they are targeting Congress offices also.”

The Congress made similar allegations but said most attackers were previously affiliated to the CPI (M). “They were criminal elements who were with the communists and were inducted into the BJP,” alleged the Congress’s state president, Pradyot Bikram Manikya Debbarman. “Now, in the name of victory, and under the protection of the police, they are settling personal scores. Around 300 of our workers have been hospitalised, 250 homes and 100 shops of our supporters burnt.”

The Congress has initiated a crisis fund for the aid of its injured workers.

History of violence

Tripura has a long history of political violence – clashes routinely break out between workers of different parties. After the BJP wrested the state from the CPI (M) in March 2018, there was wide-spread violence that culminated in the destruction of a statue of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, or Lenin, by alleged BJP supporters in a town called Belonia in the state’s southern district. As things looked set to take a turn for the worse, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had to step and ask the governor to ensure peace till the new government took charge.

This legacy was on display this election season too: numerous allegations of voter intimidation and violence forced the Election Commission to defer polls in one of the two seats in the state. At that time too, both the opposition parties came together to blame the BJP for the alleged breakdown in public order.

The opposition parties say the violence spilled over to counting rooms also this time. “You have heard of violence outside, but this time inside the counting room our workers were attacked so badly that they had to run after one or two rounds,” claimed Debbarman. “I don’t know how we will find candidates for the Panchayat elections.”

The CPI (M) expressed similar grievances. “Inside the counting hall, our agents were being beaten up in front of the police,” said Kar. “In fact, one of our candidates had to officially withdraw his counting agents.”

Left is responsible

The BJP sought to play down the incidents. “Stray incidents are being amplified,” affirmed the party’s spokesperson Ashok Sinha. According to Sinha, things were not half as bad as they used to be under the Left regime. “Thirteen people were killed after the 2013 Assembly elections, nothing of that sort is happening this time,” he said.

Sinha, like the Congress’s Debbarman, pinned the blame on lapsed CPI (M) workers, who are said to have joined the BJP in large numbers after the Left party’s debacle in the 2018 elections. “We can’t stop them from saying they are BJP supporters, but we have kept them out of our party hierarchy,” he said. “If someone who is part of the party hierarchy is responsible, then you can blame us.”

The CPI (M)’s Kar refused to buy that explanation. While he conceded that Left cadres had indeed moved over to the BJP in recent times, he said it was the saffron party’s responsibility to rein them in. “They are now BJP workers; if they can’t control them why are they blaming us?”