Assembly elections in the Northeast of India have never caught the nation’s fancy, but elections in Tripura this time seem to be a different matter altogether. The major reason for the interest in Tripura elections is the long and uninterrupted rule of the Left Front, which has, for the first time, entered into a direct contest against the right-wing parties. Ending a high-pitched election campaign, the BJP claimed that it would successfully end the long rule of the CPM in Tripura.
The left parties have been in power in Tripura since 1993, with Manik Sarkar as the Chief Minister from 1998. Data from previous elections show that the Left Front has improved its seats tally and vote share consistently in the 60-seat assembly.
Graph 1: Seats Tally and Vote Share of Left Front in Tripura (1998–2013)
The Congress, which has been in power in the state for two terms, had won 10 seats in the 2013 polls, securing 36.53 per cent of votes. However, six of the 10 Congress MLAs left the party in 2015, briefly joined the Trinamool Congress, before finally joining the BJP. Another Congress MLA, who had resigned from the State Assembly and joined the CPM, shifted loyalty to the BJP. The Congress received a major jolt, when just ahead of the poll announcement in Tripura another Congress MLA joined the BJP camp.
The BJP has made serious inroads into the state since the last assembly elections. It has not only been the prime beneficiary of the defections from the Congress but also built up a strong ground-level cadre in the state to take on the CPM party machinery. In the 2018 elections, the BJP tied up with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), with the national party contesting from 51 seats and the IPFT from nine. The IPFT had been demanding to carve out a separate state of Tipraland out of Tripura’s tribal areas. Though the BJP has been apprehensive of the demand for a separate state, it has assured to work towards tribal causes. This might become a significant factor in a state, where the primary fault line is between Bengalis and tribal communities.
Tripura – Development Indices and Major Issues
Tripura makes for an interesting case study, when the various development indicators of the state are analysed.
Health: The state has improved its statistics as far as Infant Mortality Rates (IMR) and mortality of children under five years are concerned. The National Family Health Survey 2015–16 puts Tripura’s IMR at 27 per cent, down from 51 per cent in 2005–06. Similarly, its under-five mortality rate improved from 59 per cent in 2005–06 to 33 per cent in 2015–16. The statistics for stunting (low height for age) and wasting (low weight for height) of children under five years in Tripura are better than the national average. While the national average of stunting is 38.4 per cent and wasting is 21 per cent, it is 24.3 per cent and 16.8 per cent, respectively, in Tripura.
The Rural Health Statistics 2016 shows that even though Tripura has an adequate number of health sub-centres, there is a shortfall of 14 per cent of Primary Health Centres and 26 per cent of Community Health Centres (CHC) in the state. The CHCs also reel under a severe shortage of specialist doctors, which is a matter of concern, since only 9 per cent of Tripura’s population avail themselves of private healthcare compared to 55 per cent nationally.
Access to drinking water and electricity: About 92.7 per cent of households in Tripura have access to electricity against the national average of 88.2 per cent. Nearly 87 per cent of households in the state have drinking water from a ‘piped or protected source of water’.
Literacy rate: The 2011 Census Data rates Tripura as the fifth most literate state with a literacy rate of 87.8 per cent.
Sex ratio: The state’s sex ratio of 960 females per 1000 males is better than the national average.
Unemployment: As per an analysis by ‘IndiaSpend’ of the Employment-Unemployment Survey, 2015-16, Tripura has the highest unemployment rate in India. At 19.7 per cent, it is four times the national average of 4.9 per cent. The Economic Survey Report of 2017–18 ranks Tripura at 24 in the list of 36 states and union territories based on its per capita income.
Given the geographical isolation of Tripura (situated in the northeastern extremity of the country bordered by Bangladesh on three sides), only about 27 per cent of the land is arable. This is in contrast to the fact that agriculture remains the main source of employment, engaging about 64 per cent of the state’s population. With other indices like high literacy rate and high unemployment rate, the situation in Tripura can be deemed restive.
The BJP has made unemployment the key weapon in the election battle in Tripura, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi promising a job for every household in the state, and special economic zones for food processing, bamboo and textiles industries. With its slogan of change and development, and a strong organisational base, the BJP has emerged as a major contender in the elections in a state that has been a stronghold of the left for decades.
*Anupama Ghosh is Research Intern with CPPR. Views expressed in this article are personal and do not reflect those of CPPR.