Agartala, Feb 22: The storm and stress of the month-long hectic assembly election campaign in Tripura has come to an end peacefully with leading lights of 14 parties predicting victory for their candidates in the state's bi-polar politics. The last round of campaign had Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi oozing confidence in re-capturing power with their Congress-INPT-PDS combine, while West Bengal Chief Minister Budhadev Bhattacharjee and other leading Leftists of the country predicting another landslide victory for the Left Front for their sixth consecutive term.
On the other hand, BJP president Rajnath Singh and senior party leader and former HRD Minister Dr Murali Manohar Joshi urged the people to vote against both the blocs and look for third alternative in the tenth Tripura assembly election. Amidst conflicting claims made by Left Front and Congress campaign, the dust settled down yesterday leaving 20,35,877 strong electorate to decide the fate of 313 candidates including 28 women of 14 parties that also included 64 independent candidates. The feature that stands out from the campaign is that security, corruption and employment generation besides, the threat of militantacy were at a premium.
Despite various odds, the ruling Left Front is trying to perform a hat-trick of victories, while the opposition alliance is firm on preventing that with militancy allegedly playing a clandestine role in active politics. However, corruption and employment generation became the main issues for the first time in the electoral history of Tripura.
Various surveys and intelligence reports have made prediction that CPM led left front would scrape through to retain power for the sixth consecutive term, but the present strength of the ruling front (minus Forward Bloc) may be reduced. The left front has 42 members in the outgoing assembly headed by Manik Sarkar.
What could be more disconcerting statistics of Left Front was that during last assembly election, in 22 segments of 60 member House in the state, victory margin were less than less than one thousand votes. Fifteen of these 20 seats went in favour of left front while eleven had been settled by a margin of less than 500 votes with three going in the opposition's favour.
According to political observers, this time about 28 seats would be decided by margins of less than one thousand votes and left front may lose at least two seats this time. Tribal votes, which comprises about 30 per cent of the total electorate, the unemployed youths of about five lakh and a section of government employees, who were assured of employment opportunity and increase in the retirement age up to 60 years respectively, could be vital factors.
The Congress allotted eleven tribal seats to INPT and one for dissident Marxist PDS. However, the electoral equation in the plains having 33 general seats are equally daunting, unless BJP or Independent candidates cut into the traditional Congress vote banks, as had happened in 1998 elections.
The fear in the left camp is quite palpable whenever the possibility of banned militant outfits meddling in the electoral process crops up in the 20 tribal reserved seats, but the development in hilly interiors over past one and half decades of left rule have become a source of confidence them also. In 2003 election, Left Front pulled 51.19 per cent votes only 6.19 per cent more than the together votes pulled by Congress-INPT combine. Additional 1.32 per cent of votes from both the quarters were taken away by BJP, which had put of candidates in all 60 constituencies.
However, the anti-incumbency factor coupled with a critical unemployment problem could turn out to be Left Front's Achilles' heel while the bonus of the ruling front is the fact that it is fighting the election from the position of power with various development programmes being successful.