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Tripura assembly elections: BJP plans to make inroads through tribal votes

The BJP’s poll promises include employment opportunities for every household, free smartphones for youngsters, accessible drinking water and greater national visibility and greater representation for tribals in the party and government.

Tripura Elections 2018 Updated: Feb 17, 2018 22:58 IST
Dipanjan Sinha
Dipanjan Sinha
Agartala, Hindustan Times
Tripura assembly elections,BJP,Tribals
Union minister and Bharatiya Janata Party MP Babul Supriyo participates in a rally ahead of Tripura assembly elections in Agartala on Friday.(PTI photo)

The slogan of ‘chalo paltai’ (let’s change) is catching on in tribal Tripura, and that’s a good news for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The tagline is part of party’s emerging template for the northeast.

Tribals make up 31% of Tripura’s population, which also has a large number of Bengalis.

Using symbolism to strike a chord with the tribal voters, the BJP decided to modify its political icon, Bharat Mata. She’s not dressed in a sari, but is dressed as a Reang in Reang regions, as a Chakma in areas where that tribe is prominent, and so on.

Stating that Bharat Mata “can be dressed in all Indian attires”, former RSS leader and BJP’s Tripura in-charge, Sunil Deodhar, says it can be an effective way to counter the alienation that these tribes feel.

Though limited to social media for now, he plans to have 19 depictions of Bharat Mata in Tripura, and 300 across the northeast.

The party’s poll promises include employment opportunities for every household, free smartphones for youngsters, accessible drinking water and greater national visibility and greater representation for tribals in the party and government.

As a sort of assurance, the BJP has allied with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), a party founded in 2009 to represent the interests of the state’s tribal population.

Though its demand for a separate Tipraland state alienated it from the Bengali population, the IPFT looks set to be a more serious contender this time after aligning with the BJP.

Ground report

Of the 20 tribal seats the BJP and IPFT are contesting from, the parties say they are confident of securing at least two — Bagma and Simna — for sure.

Electoral victories here could mark a significant start for the alliance partners. The CPI(M) has never lost an election in Simna (though it did lose one bypoll) and Bagma has been the bastion of current state forest minister Naresh Jamatia.

But the BJP has picked its candidate very carefully here. Rampada Jamatia, of the Jamatia tribe, was the treasurer of the Jamatia Hoda, the community council that has a strong say in community decision-making. To contest polls, he quit the council, but the party is banking on his influence on the community and the goodwill he has earned as a social worker.

Strong roots

RK Satapathy, a political science professor at the North-Eastern Hill University, says anti-incumbency began building against the Left before the 2013 election.

Senior journalist Shekhar Dutta, who has been writing on the state for over 30 years, agrees.

“The Congress as the main Opposition was not able to turn the anti-incumbency to their advantage in the last election. There were close contests in many more seats though,” Dutta says. “That small margin may be bridged this time with BJP’s cadre-based disciplined aggression and many senior Congress leaders joining them.”

On a recent visit to the state, Satpathy found higher support for the BJP in urban areas while the rural regions were still Left leaning. “These rural areas also include large tribal populations. On their own, the BJP and IPFT would not be strong in the tribal belt, but the alliance might fetch them better results,” he says.

The BJP’s “over-ambitious” electoral promises may have also worked in their favour, Satapathy feels.

“Though these promises will be difficult to keep, for the voter they are enticing,” he says. “Their votes may eventually not be so much pro-BJP as they are anti-Left.”

First Published: Feb 17, 2018 22:54 IST