The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party swept the recently held civic bypolls by securing 99.37 per cent seats in Tripura. The saffron party won 66 of the 67 seats of the 14 municipal bodies that went to the Tripura bypolls, while opposition CPM won a lone seat.
The bypolls were necessitated due to resignation of elected public representatives of urban bodies, mostly belonging to the CPM, after the BJP came to power last year by defeating the Left Front in the state. However, both the opposition parties, CPM and Congress have rejected the results calling the election process a mockery of democracy. The opposition alleged that the polls didn’t represent the true voice of the people of Tripura, as BJP supporters tried their best to throttle the voices of opposition supporters by even warning opposition candidates to not contest the elections. It is to be noted that 158 urban seats were vacant and the BJP won 91 of them uncontested, leaving the remaining 67 seats for contest.
Elections are important in a democracy but more significant is that the electoral process should be conducted in a free and fair manner and the outcome should always be above board. However, in case of the recent Tripura by-polls, the process is marred with reports of attacks on opposition supporters, candidates and senior leaders. Not only this, the opposition parties even labelled charges of rigging in the elections.
BJP obviously celebrated the massive victory and countered the opposition charges by saying that they are trying to find excuses after being rejected by the voters of Tripura. Truth of charges of rigging is yet to be verified but one thing that cannot be denied is the intimidation of opposition voters by ruling party supporters.
There have been reports to this effect in the local media. This becomes more evident with senior CPM leader and former minister Bhanulal Saha being physically assaulted by a BJP activist on polling day. Even the CPM state secretary Gautam Das was heckled the day results were declared. Even some months ago, there were reports of attacks on former Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and Congress state president Birajit Singha. This suggests that the charges are not entirely baseless.
Interestingly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his New Year interview mentioned about his party’s victory and decimation of the opposition in Tripura. Obviously, his figures were correct as the opposition got a drubbing but he might not have been aware of the circumstances surrounding the election. Nevertheless, the critical question remains whether the results represent the mood of Tripura voters.
The answer is not crystal clear. But one thing is certain – the electoral process failed to impress the opposition. This is an ominous sign for democracy in the state. What is surprising is that in the recently held rural body polls in neighbouring, BJP-ruled Assam, there were no major reports of rigging and the opposition also accepted the results.
So, if elections were held peacefully in Assam with no major allegations by the opposition, then why in Tripura were they marred by reports of intimidation and attacks on the opposition supporters and leaders. This should definitely worry the establishment of the state. For democracy to survive, there must be dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition and those in the dispensation have to play a larger role. But the opposition too simply can’t run away just by holding press conferences and throwing accusations against the ruling party and the electoral process. The opposition should go to the people and also hold talks with the government to find solutions instead of just politicising issues repeatedly.
Lastly, it can be safely assumed that the current democratic situation of the state, though not critical, is under pressure, and the wide allegations of elections being a farce, overshadow the BJP’s clean sweep.
(The writer is a Tripura-based freelance contributor.)