On June 23, Tripura will see bypolls for four assembly seats— Agartala, Town Bardowali, Surma, and Jubarajnagar. Doesn’t sound like a high-stakes electoral battle, and yet the upcoming contests have garnered significant national attention.
The bypolls are being seen as a semi-final for next year’s Tripura assembly elections. Chief minister Dr Manik Saha, who recently replaced his controversial predecessor Biplab Deb, will be contesting from Bardowali.
Of the four seats, three were with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and it is trying to hold on to these while also snatching the fourth from the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
The death of Left MLA Ramendra Chandra Debnath from Jubarajnagar, and the resignations of BJP legislators Sudip Roy Barman and Ashish Saha from Agartala and Town Bardowali, respectively, necessitated by-elections on those seats. In Surma constituency, MLA Ashish Das was disqualified by the assembly Speaker after he joined the Trinamool Congress from the BJP.
Dr Manik Saha, a former Rajya Sabha lawmaker, has never contested an election. He faces a big challenge in Town Bardowali, as he is up against five-time winner Sudip Roy Barman, who is now with the Congress. Bardowali, Agartala, and Surma were all with the BJP, but the MLAs switched parties in revolt against Biplab Deb. Barman and Ashish Saha are sitting MLAs contesting for the Congress this time.
Speaking to News18, Manik Saha said, “Yes, this is a challenge and I know I am capable of handling this. We will win by a good margin.”
Experts say there are various reasons why bypolls for these four seats are important from a larger perspective.
Firstly, the polls will tell the BJP how Tripura residents are feeling after Biplab’s ouster.
It’s also an opportunity to view how the disgruntled BJP leaders who have joined the Congress perform this time.
This will also be a test for the Trinamool Congress, which is looking to expand in Tripura and is trying to project itself as the main opposition.
Also, the positions of the Congress and Left in the state will become clearer.
Regional outfit Tipra Motha of royal scion Pradout Kishore Debbarma, which took birth last year, is also in the fray. It is contesting from Surma with the backing of the Congress. The party’s demand is for a new state ‘Greater Tipraland’, and it has influence in over 20 assembly seats of the state. How Tipra Motha does will also be gauged during the bypolls.
The BJP has roped in its Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sharma and other important leaders for campaigning. Himanta has canvassed in Tripura, tearing into the Congress. “The Congress is old currency and there is no point voting for it,” he said.
The TMC too has gone all out and is contesting from all four seats. Party national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee himself came to campaign twice in Tripura before the bypolls.
“If you vote for the Congress or CPI(M), your vote will be wasted. Give us a chance. Tripura is on the verge of change and we will do it,” he said.
The Congress and Left too carried out energetic campaigning. The buzz around the TMC is media created and it doesn’t have a base in Tripura, they say.
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