Tripura election: Left faces existential crisis as BJP brings it to its weakest in 4 decades
Tripura was the CPI(M)’s citadel for 25 successive years, 20 of which saw Manik Sarkar at the helm. However, in the latest electoral round, the BJP and its ally shot ahead in their tally, leaving the Communist party far behind.Updated: Jul 26, 2019 12:45 IST
The electoral debacle in Tripura has reduced the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI (M), to its weakest in 40 years, leaving it potentially vulnerable to an existential crisis.
A majority of the state’s 2.5 million voters decided against giving a sixth consecutive term to the CPI(M) in the country’s first direct Left-Right electoral contest, opting instead for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The BJP along with its ally, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, comfortably crossed the majority mark, leaving the CPI(M) a distant second.
The CPI (M)’s other longstanding citadel, West Bengal, crumbled in 2011, when the Trinamool Congress ended the left’s 34-year rule in the state. Kerala is the only state where the CPI (M)-led Left Front is now in power; it’s a state that tends to vote out the party in power every five years.
The rout in Tripura could reduce the CPI (M)to a marginal player in electoral politics, depriving it of a comfortable and secure niche, no matter how small it might have been.
Despite the anti-incumbency factor, the scale of defeat is overwhelming for the CPI (M) in a state where its government has been led by the austere Manik Sarkar, known as the country’s poorest chief minister, for four terms.
“We did considerable work in the state and it is there for everyone to see. We will not comment on the outcome till we study it because we have complaints about the way voting machines were working,” said Suneet Chopra, a member of the CPI (M) central committee.
To be sure, Tripura has had its share of successes under left rule . For example, Tripura is among the few states where the Forest Rights Act (FRA) has been successfully implemented. The state’s literacy rate went up to 87.2 % in 2011 from 60.4% in 1991.
But the party missed out on sensing the aspirations of people, especially the young, and failed to counter a smart electoral alliance the BJP stitched up in a state where the CPI (M) polled 52% of the votes in 2013. In contrast, in 2013, BJP contested 50 seats and its candidates lost their deposit in 49. A mere 1.54% voted for the BJP five years ago.
The CPI (M) will find it difficult to digest that the BJP trounced it in a direct contest in its own den. It also faces the challenge of finding a consensus on a possible political understanding with the Congress. Most of the party’s leaders in Kerala, its sole remaining bastion, are vehemently opposed to any understanding with the Congress, which leads the opposition in the southern state.
“Let’s be very clear. The result in Tripura shows that the main challenge for us — or the opposition parties — is the BJP, led by Narendra Modi. And you can go on arguing and counter-arguing about an understanding with the Congress. But the reality is that the Left should align with all secular opposition parties including the Congress ,” a party leader from West Bengal said on condition of anonymity.
The party has already started debating a political resolution which is against a political understanding with the Congress even as it admits that the BJP is the biggest challenge. The resolution will be discussed and adopted at the Party Congress in Hyderabad due to be held between April 18 and 22. Whether the defeat in Tripura will force the party to change the stand on an understanding with the Congress is a question that will be answered at the event.
There are no easy answers to the challenges confronting the CPI (M). This could be a moment of reckoning for the party founded in 1964.