Tripura had its Assembly elections on February 18, when a whopping 92% of voters turned up to choose their representatives for 59 seats.

The state has had a CPI(M)-led Left government for 25 years, with Chief Minister Manik Sarkar at the helm since 1998.

This time, however, the Bharatiya Janata Party has posed a huge challenge to the CPI(M). Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah campaigned extensively in the state, and the BJP also tied up with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, which has been demanding a separate state of Twipraland for the Tripuri tribe.

The state has 60 Assembly seats, but voting for the Charilam seat was pushed to March 12 after Communist Party of India (Marxist) candidate Ramendra Narayan Debbarma died while campaigning.

Re-polling was held at six booths in six Assembly constituencies in Tripura on February 26, for which more than 85% of people cast their votes. Tripura Chief Electoral Officer Sriram Taranikanti had earlier said that 191 Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails and 89 Electronic Voting Machines malfunctioned across the state during the polling on February 18.

Exit polls

Although the exit polls did not clearly forecast who would win, it largely predicted that the BJP will consolidate its position in Tripura. According to all the polls, the saffron party will increase it vote share in Tripura immensely.

According to CVoter, the incumbent CPI(M) will win 26 to 34 seats, closely followed by the alliance of the BJP and the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura with 24 to 32 seats. It predicted that the Congress would win a maximum of two seats.

The predictions by AxisMyIndia were very different. They said the BJP will secure anywhere between 44 and 50 seats while the CPI(M) will be restricted to maximum 15 seats.

In the fray

The Left Front – the CPI(M), Communist Party of India, Revolutionary Socialist Party and Forward Bloc – has fielded candidates from all seats. The CPI(M) is contesting in 56 seats, while the remaining three have been divided among the three allies. Chief Minister Manik Sarkar contested from his home constituency of Dhanpur in Sepahijala district. The party has also included more women in the fray.

The BJP has fielded 51 candidates, and its ally the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura contested from nine seats.

The Congress put up candidates from 59 seats. The only constituency without a Congress nominee is Kakrabon in Gomati district.

None of the parties have announced their chief ministerial candidate.

Electoral issues

Employment in the state was at the core of the BJP’s election campaign. The first point in the party’s vision document for Tripura promised employment for at least one member of each family. “The state government talks about Tripura having the highest literacy rate in the country, but it is a fraud. Literacy doesn’t bring development, education does,” Sunil Deodhar, the BJP leader in charge of party affairs in Tripura, had said in the run up to the elections.

The BJP has campaigned for change. It is banking on the vote of the youth who are dissatisfied with the unemployment crisis in the state.

The Left Front, which is facing a massive anti-incumbency wave, asserted that the state had created many employment opportunities but that insurgency has affected growth. The Left Front in Tripura often dismissed the BJP as being like the Congress, but with “better propaganda machinery”.

It has also criticised the BJP for tying up with a separatist group. The CPI(M) has dismissed the alliance as opportunistic, and accused the BJP of engineering a social rift for electoral gains.

The demand for a separate state for tribals is also a major electoral issue. The tribals form a crucial voter block and one-third of 60 Assembly seats is reserved for Tripura’s tribal population.

Tribal areas are administered by the Tripura Autonomous District Council under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. This provision allows for autonomous, decentralised self-governance in certain tribal regions across eight districts in Tripura. The Indigenous People’s Front wants all these areas – which account for almost 70% of the state’s territory – to be made a separate state called Twipraland.

2013 elections

The CPI(M)-led Left alliance won 50 seats out of 60 in the last election. The 10 remaining went to the Congress, and the BJP did not win any. The last election had also recorded a massive voter turnout – 93.57%. Women voters had outnumbered men by 2.13%.