Election day excitement in Tripura, which frequently translates into stunning turnouts surpassing 90%, has few analogs in most other regions of India where “urban voter apathy” has arisen as a serious worry, as recognized by the Election Commission of India.
While the lead-up to polling day in Tripura is marked by hectic campaigning— marked by rallies, corner meetings, and doorstep visits by candidates — on election day, people, particularly women with children in tow, queue up in front of polling booths from early morning in a remarkable display of political consciousness. The polling percentages in the past three Assembly elections were 89.95%,91.38%, and 93.57%, respectively.
Unfortunately, it appears that the democratic spirit dissipates quickly once voting concludes, giving place to a vortex of political violence and an environment of fear and intimidation. This year has been no exception, with reports of confrontations and arson flooding in from around the state since the February 16 polls. The level of violence rose after the results were published on March 2.
On Thursday, Chief Minister Manik Saha stated that a gang with “vested interests” was seeking to “foment strife”. “I have instructed the DGP to tackle the matter aggressively. “The law will take its own course,” Saha told reporters, adding that miscreants will face consequences regardless of political allegiance.
The Left Front-Congress alliance, which ran in the elections under a seat-sharing agreement, has accused the BJP directly of the violence. “Details of 668 cases have been provided to the state government while the Governor remained unable to meet the CPI(M) and Left Front delegation,” the CPI(M) Polit Bureau stated in a statement.
A united group of Left and Congress leaders is also on its way to Tripura as part of a fact-finding expedition into the post-election violence. A united delegation of this size also reflects Tripura’s shifting political landscape. Prior to the BJP’s ascent in the state, the Left and the Congress were bitter enemies. During the CPI(Munbroken )’s rule of Tripura from 1993 to 2018, Congress claimed that the Left assaulted, intimidated, and victimized its workers and sympathizers. While changing circumstances prompted the two parties’ leaders to heal bridges, concerns lingered on the ground despite efforts to bridge the divide.
The apparent parallels in the form of political violence in Tripura and West Bengal provide a helpful lens through which the issue might be investigated. The advent of the Left set in motion a series of developments that decimated the feudal aristocracy in both republics. Yet, over time, a patronage network formed in which party affiliation emerged as the most influential indicator of a person’s identity. In the lack of job possibilities, the jobless young found incentives in being a part of these institutions — which were also involved in terrorizing political competitors — that made them feel important and empowered in some way.
The demographic upheaval in Tripura caused by the immigration of displaced Bengalis from present-day Bangladesh — which occurred in stages from the 1940s until the Bangladesh War of Liberation in 1971 — also produced divisions that the state has struggled to close to this day. This time, the ascent of TIPRA Motha on the platform of “Greater Tipraland” has given a new dimension to the post-election conflicts, with concerns voiced about the ramifications of those faultlines reopening.
Unofficially, the BJP has cited this worry as one of the reasons for its decision to initiate talks with TIPRA Motha, which won 13 of the 42 seats it contested and finished second in the 60-member Legislature.
Speaking at The Indian Express Idea Exchange recently, TIPRA Motha chairperson Pradyot Debbarma remarked that the political violence was also related to poverty and the riots were provoked by persons who “are paid to create violence”.
“The best answer for this is to not include such components in either party. This also originates mostly from three states: Kerala, Tripura, and West Bengal. There are no Communists left in West Bengal; only the Trinamool and the BJP. Yet, the culture of violence has been passed down through generations; it is a legacy issue. “It’s the same in Tripura,” he explained.