“Congrats Ram! The world needs fewer Communists.” This message that I received from a foreign diplomat aptly sums up the significance of the Tripura results. Ronald Reagan is credited with decimating Communism; so is Margaret Thatcher. In India, that task will most likely be completed by Narendra Modi. “How did he do it”, those puzzled intellectuals still ask. By being primarily American: “nonchalant, ever-hopeful, tough as an old boot when necessary”, wrote The Economist long ago. In the Tripura victory, we have been all that and more.
The Tripura election was “battle royale” for us. A state under Communist rule for six successive terms, its systems, including the administration and law and order machinery, have all been painted in red. That has helped the Communists to rule the state unchallenged for more than two decades. For the outside world, there was the camouflage of Manik Sarkar’s image as a non-corrupt and down-to-earth chief minister.
Politics in Tripura needs to be experienced; it cannot be described. Violence, intimidation and an atmosphere of threat and oppression pervade the state. Not only those that belonged to other political parties, but even the media which tried to be independent, faced serious threats under the Communist rule. Rigging and manipulating the elections is the fine art mastered by them.
Defeating such an entrenched manipulative machinery needed doggedness and determination; nonchalance, toughness and strong will; importantly, a strong organisational network. BJP President Amit Shah’s insistence on forming booth committees has helped the party in building a cadre base right up to the booth level. For the first time, the Communist cadres have faced an organised challenge from the BJP at the grassroots. But the challenge was much bigger. We needed to checkmate every move of the left; we had to be eternally vigilant, and one step ahead of them. Our backroom strategy team ensured that. In Tripura, we have had our timing, tactics and strategy precise till the last detail.
The real credit goes to the people of Tripura. They probably wanted the Communists to go even in the last election. But the Congress, the main Opposition at that time, lacked the courage and conviction. Then and now, for the Congress, it was just shadowboxing in Tripura. The left and Congress needed each other, and so the drama. For the people of Tripura, it was like the proverbial devil and the deep sea.
But this time, the people saw in the BJP a determined Opposition out to fight till the last vote to oust the Communists. We have succeeded in convincing the people that the Communists could actually be defeated. Our election slogan “Chalo Paltai” became a sort of a battle cry. In the psychological war, we secured the upper hand very early.
We promised to the people of Tripura three things. First, peace and unity. Tripura under the Communists was the most violent state. It used to register the highest number of cases of atrocities against women and political opponents. A widening gulf between the tribals and non-tribals under the Communist rule had led to the rise of parties like the IPFT — the Indigenous Peoples’ Front of Tripura — which advocated for a separate Tripuraland state. Asking for a separate state is no crime. But the Communists sought to project them as separatists. If the IPFT is separatist, what then is the TRS in Telangana?
The BJP has formed an alliance with the IPFT ignoring the Communist taunts. Both parties have together affirmed their commitment to “one united Tripura”. It goes to the BJP’s credit that the IPFT has agreed to commit itself to a united Tripura. The BJP-IPFT alliance has decimated the CPM in tribal areas. Of the 19 ST reserved seats that went to polls, the alliance has secured 17. The overwhelming support of the tribals to the BJP was a key factor in the final outcome as they constituted 15 to 40 per cent vote share in another 17-18 non-ST seats as well.
Our second promise was to bring development. A state with a population of about 3 million has close to 7 lakh unemployed youth. Under the Communist rule, the state has suffered in all developmental indicators. In this, PM Modi’s image as a development-focused leader and his track record of four years has helped the BJP.
Third, we promised to provide a clean and non-corrupt government. Contrary to outside perception, Manik Sarkar ran a corrupt and non-accountable government. People wanted a clean and responsive government and the BJP has offered one. No election victory is because of one factor. In Tripura, our organisational network, elaborate backroom planning, tactical moves, meticulous strategy — all have played a role. Above all, it was the Modi factor.
But the real story of this round of elections is in Nagaland. A state with 88 per cent Christian population has elected 12 BJP legislators. The BJP fought this election in alliance with the regional NDPP and contested in only 20 seats. The ruling NPF, a former ally, launched a vicious and communal campaign against the BJP, dubbing it as anti-Christian. Yet, just by contesting in 20 seats the BJP has secured more than 15 per cent of the popular vote, that is equivalent to more than 45 per cent of the popular vote for the whole state. It is a stupendous achievement given the state’s demography. We will, for the first time, be a strong voice in the next Nagaland government. Safe-landing the Naga Agreement, which is likely to be concluded soon, will be one of the top priorities for the NDPP-BJP government.
The victories in Tripura and Nagaland are historic for the BJP because these are uncharted terrains. Conquering a Left citadel or catapulting to power in a Christian-dominated state is no mean achievement. It shows that PM Modi’s “Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas” is today accepted by all sections of the society.
(The article was originally published in Indian Express on march 5, 2018. Views expressed are personal)