INDIA disunity, TIPRA’s mixed signals — how BJP won 88% vote in Tripura’s Muslim-dominated Boxanagar

New Delhi: A Muslim candidate fielded by the BJP registered a massive victory in Tripura’s minority-dominated Boxanagar assembly constituency Friday, prompting the CPI(M), which won the seat merely six months ago, to allege that it was an outcome of widespread rigging and intimidation of voters.

The BJP, while denying the allegations, said its electoral performance in Boxanagar and Dhanpur heralded the beginning of a new era in the state’s politics where appeasement will have no takers, signalling that even the Muslim community had reposed its faith in the party’s credo of sabka saath, sabka vikas.

According to the 2011 census, Muslims make up more than 50 percent of the population of Boxanagar.

The politics of appeasement that went on for years ended today. This divide and rule policy and appeasement to reduce a community to a voting bloc will not work anymore. The minority community has blessed us with their support, responding to the slogan of sabka saath sabka vikas, Tripura Chief Minister Manik Saha said at a press conference Friday.

While the BJP retained Dhanpur, it wrested Boxanagar from the CPI(M), registering a dramatic rise in vote share in the seat — from 37.76 percent in the February 2023 assembly polls to 87.97 percent in the 5 September bypoll.

The CPI(M), on the other hand, maintained that the bypoll results did not reflect the sentiments of the people.

“The result vindicates our position that rigging was widespread. Merely six months ago, our candidate won Boxanagar by nearly 5,000 votes. And this time our candidate could poll only 3,000 votes. This is clearly not a reflection of the choice of the electorate. The BJP has turned Tripura into a laboratory of autocratic policies,” CPI(M) state secretary Jitendra Chaudhury told reporters Friday.

The Boxanagar result is also significant given that in Tripura, the Congress — part of the 28-member INDIA alliance — did not field any candidate to help prevent a possible split in the non-BJP vote. This is a strategy the Opposition plans to replicate elsewhere to bolster its chances against the BJP in the 2024 general elections. The Boxanagar result, however, exposed the limitations of the INDIA alliance in effectively taking on the BJP in the absence of seamless coordination among workers and leaders of the constituent parties. 

The Boxanagar by-election was necessitated by the death of Samsul Haque, the sitting CPI(M) MLA. Haque’s son Mizan Hossain contested the bypoll on a CPI(M) ticket and was trounced by Tafajjal Hossain of the BJP.

Also Read: Mayawati’s NOTA appeal in Ghosi yields little — story behind Dara Singh Chauhan’s loss & INDIA’s gain

What went wrong for INDIA in Boxanagar

Fissures between the Left and the Congress emerged soon after the former announced its candidates for the two seats where by-elections were held on 5 September along with five other assembly seats, one each in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Kerala and Jharkhand.

The Congress expressed its displeasure, accusing the CPI(M) of announcing candidates even as talks were underway between the two parties, and the state’s principal Opposition party TIPRA Motha, to work out a common campaign strategy. 

Eventually, though the Congress largely stayed away from addressing any rally in favour of the CPI(M) candidate and instead appealed to people to vote for the INDIA alliance, it did not hide its displeasure even after the declaration of results.

It is a fact that free and fair polls have become an impossibility under the BJP in Tripura. But I must add that the CPI(M) should have been more proactive in taking all the Opposition parties together, Congress state president Ashish Saha told reporters Friday.

On top of that, the Congress’s decision to not field any candidate from the seat also led to a collapse of its organisational base in the area, which borders Bangladesh.

Billal Miah, two-term Congress MLA from Boxanagar, quit the Congress and joined BJP in the presence of Chief Minister Manik Saha on 24 August. Miah had served as the Congress’s working president in the state, as well as a minister in the last government led by the party in the state between 1988 and 1993.

A top state BJP leader told ThePrint that Miah’s desertion played a major role in influencing the results. Firstly, the minorities know that come what may, the government will not change for another five years. So there was no point for them to back the CPI(M) again. Second, when they saw Miah joining the BJP, it gave them some degree of confidence. We also ran a campaign in the area telling people that development knows no religion.

Welcoming Miah into the BJP fold, Saha had claimed that over “8,000 opposition voters” followed the former Congress heavyweight, hinting at the BJP’s imminent victory in Boxanagar.

Two days later, a meeting between Union Home Minister Amit Shah and TIPRA Motha chief Pradyot Debbarma, added one more layer of complication to the mix. Motha, which got 13 MLAs elected in the February polls, did not field candidates in the by-elections, but urged its supporters to follow their conscience while voting.

However, the timing of Debbarma’s meeting with Shah, ostensibly over Motha’s demands on securing the rights of tribals, became a talking point in the run up to the bypolls.

‘CPI(M) failed to inspire confidence’

Tafajjal Hossain, who won Boxanagar on a BJP ticket, was also a popular face of the Congress in the region.

Speaking to ThePrint, a Tripura Congress leader recounted how the party’s decision to not field Hossain as a candidate from Boxanagar in the 2013 assembly elections had triggered violent protests.

He has deep roots in the area. His family is financially strong, also politically active, and was traditionally affiliated with the Congress. The Congress’s slide in the area began the 2018 assembly polls itself when its vote share was reduced to 5.43 per cent. The BJP had garnered 34.45 per cent votes in Boxanagar even in 2018, said the Congress leader.

In contrast, the CPI(M) candidate Mizan Hossain failed to inspire confidence among the people. He was homebound even on polling day. This is not how you counter a poll machinery as effective as the one BJP controls, said another Congress leader, whose observation was seconded by a TIPRA Motha functionary.

On Friday, Debbarma also posted on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, suggesting that the CPI(M)’s campaign left much to be desired. “We faced rigging during the autonomous district council election – I was personally attacked in Mohanpur but Tipra did not back down. Result we won…victory, fear and strength is in the mind, complaining won’t help, giving up till the last over is bowled shows how much u care about your workers and what has become to a party which ruled Tripura for 25 years,” he wrote.

Debbarma has reasons to be miffed with the Left also because in the run up to the 5 September bypolls, top Left leaders including former Chief Minister Manik Sarkar addressed rallies in Boxanagar and Dhanpur, accusing the TIPRA Motha of aiding the BJP’s rise.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

Also Read: BJP faces bypoll upset in UP’s Ghosi, Bengal’s Dhupguri, gets its first ever Muslim MLA in Tripura


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