Sunil Deodhar, BJP’s man in charge of Tripura, is said to be the brain behind the party’s recent spectacular victory in the state. Deodhar, an RSS pracharak-turned-politician, is a shrewd person.
In the 2013 Delhi assembly elections, the BJP entrusted him with the responsibility of managing poll campaigns of 10 Assembly constituencies falling within South Delhi Lok Sabha constituency, of which BJP won seven.
In the 2014 general election, Deodhar was appointed the campaign manager in Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency of Varanasi. In November 2014, Deodhar was appointed state BJP in-charge of Tripura.
In an interview with RAMAN PANDIT, Deodhar revealed his strategy, and how the BJP trounced the Left government which had been ruling the state for 25 years while pushing the Congress to the margins. Excerpts:
Q: In 2013, BJP secured only around 1.5 percent of the vote in Tripura while in this Assembly election the party won more than 2/3rd of seats. How did you achieve that?
A: People of Tripura were frustrated with Left rule. They wanted change, those who were born 25 to 35 years ago, had seen only one flag ~ the red flag ~ and they did not witness any change while the world moved ahead.
The reason behind this was the policy of the Tripura government. Good education, better health facilities and drinking water were not available and people had been living in poverty. This is due to the vested interests of the Left as they wanted a society dependent on the party.
The CPM has the concept of party society and all the decisions of society, even personal ones, are taken in the party office. This was how the Left worked in Bengal and Tripura. Where the left rules no one can be neutral. If you are neutral you are considered anti-CPM.
Therefore, everyone has to be a member of a political party in communist rule and due to this voting percentage is always high. There are very few floating voters. To get any type of job in Tripura you had to be a CPM member.
They politicised the administration and criminalised politics. In Tripura more than a thousand murders took place in the last 25 years. People were murdered due to their affiliation with Congress or BJP.
I noted that people wanted to get rid of this government when I went there as state BJP in-charge in November 2014. I found that people wanted a change, but they did not see anybody as an alternative. I knew my job was to convince them that BJP is the alternative.
In Tripura, Congress was the main opposition party but the Congress government at the Centre was either a minority government or dependent on CPM support after 1991. In 1993, P V Narasimha Rao sacrificed the Congress government in Tripura to save his government at the Centre.
Congress was never interested in winning Tripura and they never held any agitation against CPM. In the 2013 assembly elections Congress cancelled two rallies of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. Even then people risked everything to vote for the Congress in the absence of any alternative. Congress used to lose by small margins.
It would have been next to impossible to win Tripura without the Modi wave. With the emergence of Modi at the Centre and as the BJP won several states, there was a ray of hope among Congress voters in Tripura that the BJP was the alternative, but they wanted to gauge its activities.
Congress people started switching over to BJP. Then we started agitations against CPM and people were convinced the BJP meant business. This is what people needed and Congress was unable to give it to them. In the last one year, CPM realised that something was going wrong and started killing our booth-level workers because the actual election takes place at the booth and we had made strong booth committees.
Surprisingly, the CPM could not set up booth committees at a few places as their cadres joined BJP. At every booth there are 19 to 20 pages in the voters list in Tripura. We nominated Panna Pramukh (page head) and his job was to knock at every door and speak about the performance of the Modi government and about the disastrous governance of Manik Sarkar.
BJP organised many training camps for its cadre and reached the interiors, including the tribal belt and successfully built up an image of Manik Sarkar as anti-tribal and anti-scheduled caste.
Out of 20 ST seats we won 18 and 9 out of 10 seats reserved for SC. That is why this is the mandate of downtrodden people. Amit Shah allowed the entry of all Congress and Trinamul Congress workers into the BJP to make it a one-on-one fight.
We gave stress on the Seventh Pay Commission issue because state government employees had got only Fourth Pay Commission recommendations. This started changing the scene.
Our two main campaigners were Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath. Thirty-five percent population of Tripura is OBC, they belong to Nath sect and Yogi Adityanath is their guru. Yogiji conducted rallies in 22 seats and we won 19. The major factor was Modi. He conducted four rallies in a small state like Tripura.
Q: Manik Sarkar has a very clean image. How did you overcome that?
A: Manik Sarkar brought the state to a standstill. Even his speeches did not change in the last 20 years. In 1998 when he first became chief minister he used to say we are poor, we are deprived, we are oppressed.
In 2018, he repeated this. Then what did you do in the last 20 years? Only God knows whether he is poor or not but the state remained poor under his rule. Simplicity can be a character trait, but it has nothing to do with administration.
Q: Biplab Deb was living in Delhi with his family. Why did you choose him as state BJP president?
A: When the question of a new state president came up, I wanted a fresh face because those who joined the BJP from Congress were old. I asked Biplab to leave Delhi.
He was born and brought up in Tripura but was working in Delhi as PA to a member to Parliament. He is an RSS worker and I was his trainer in the RSS camp. He agreed and worked hard; he went to every village of Tripura and fought for the people on the streets.
Q: There is an allegation that for the sake of power BJP forged an alliance with the separatist IPFT.
A: Not true. They are not separatists, they were only demanding a separate state within the Constitution and not a separate country, but we disagreed. We were able to convince them not to make that demand.
We told them we will root out all the causes for which they are demanding a state. They agreed and there is no mention of a separate state in the MoU signed by IPFT and BJP.
Q: Are you writing a book on this victory?
A: Actually, somebody else is writing a book on it. I am providing inputs.
Q: How did you get the idea?
A: Several people across the country told me that this is a historic win, hence it needs documentation as it will be a classic case study for political science students. Then, I thought penning down a book is not a bad idea.
Q: After BJP’s victory, a Lenin statue was pulled down. Is this not intolerance towards a different ideology?
A: This was not done by BJP workers. We condemned it. This incident took place when Manik Sarkar was caretaker chief minister. At that time the leader of our legislature party was not chosen, so it was unconstitutional to direct the DGP.
After BJP assumed power no such incident has taken place. BJP is the most tolerant party while communists are most intolerant. In 1977, when Nripen Chakravorty took over as chief minister of a CPM government, he issued a circular for removal of portraits of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru from all government offices.
Is it tolerance that you had not been singing national anthem inside the assembly for 25 years? That is anti-nationalism. And this is the victory of patriots over anti-nationals.
Q: What is your plan for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections?
A: We will win both seats in Tripura. CPM is finished as their cadre has switched over to BJP, they cannot survive without power.
Q: Will the BJP use you in Bengal or Odisha?
A: I am a disciplined worker of the party. Whatever responsibility is given to me I will follow party guidelines, but I am not aware of any such plan and people should not speculate.