As of March 2018, the BJP has Chief Ministers in 15 states of India. Having previously won the elections in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, the BJP has successfully consolidated its presence in the Northeast with Tripura under its belt with their latest victory. Noam Chomsky had once said that: “Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.” This could provide a foundation to understand the BJP’s rise to power in Tripura and, generally, as a political force throughout the country.
The right wing’s mobilisations in the 1980s and the early 1990s gained significant popularity during the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement, especially among the middle class and the BJP’s traditional support base of traders and upper castes. However, that wasn’t enough for the BJP to sustain their hold of power in Indian politics. Therefore, in the 2014 elections, they shifted their agenda and focused mainly on economic growth and development of the country. ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas’ became the slogan on which the BJP led their campaign. Their ‘Vote for Change’ rhetoric struck a chord with thousands of people and ensured their victory in the elections. BJP’s campaign for victory in Tripura is not very different from the politics of the mainland.
People in Tripura were long displeased with the non-implementation of the 7th Pay Commission and this found a prominent space in the BJP’s Vision Document for the state as well as the speeches of the leaders in the run-up to the elections. Moreover, the tribal people were disillusioned with the politics of the Left and they felt alienated. So the BJP tied up with the IPFT (Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura) in order to build a strong base for a tribal vote-bank. Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhwal, a former rebel commander and president of IPFT said that: “This is not a bad verdict as far as we are concerned. We don’t support the BJP, but something had to change. The tribals have been loyal to the CPM time after time, but without getting anything in return.”
Thus, the hopeful desire for change mingled with Narendra Modi’s popularity, mustered in several rallies leading up to the elections, led to the end of a twenty-five-year rule of the CPM in the state. Although the general sentiment amongst the populace of Tripura was that of “change”, Sunil Deodhar, the BJP Tripura prabhari (in-charge) and former RSS pracharak said that: “We have broken the Communist spine with this victory. This was essential. Now we have broken the backbone of Communism from JNU to Kerala. This is more than just symbolic for us.” In a way, Deodhar’s statement seeks to assert the fact that the BJP has been successful in shattering an ideology because the people have voted for change.
On Monday, 48 hours after the assembly election results were announced, a statue of Lenin was razed to the ground in Tripura’s Belonia by celebrating BJP workers and supporters amid vociferous cries of “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”. And, thereafter, commenced a spiral of incidents of statue razing vandalism in different parts of the country: Periyar’s statue in Tamil Nadu, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee’s statue in Kolkata, and Ambedkar’s statue in Uttar Pradesh. Statues of Communist icons like Lenin, the Chinese revolutionary Mao, and German revolutionary socialist Marx, were installed in states like West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, where the Left was in power. The CPI (M) described the incident in Tripura as an example of “Communism Phobia”, but the BJP claimed that the statue was brought down by people who felt “oppressed” by the Left.
The razing of the statues, in a way, could be symbolic of the veritable decline of the Left in our country or perhaps it could just be the way the BJP is painting it to be. People’s ‘vote for change’ rests on the hope for a better economy with greater opportunities for employment and development. However, the BJP is steadfast in asserting the ‘vote for change’ as the final blow to the ideology of a party and their political career. After the vandalism of Lenin statue, violent protests broke out between left-wing and right-wing students in Jadavpur University in Kolkata over the stripping of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee’s statue on campus. Amid clashes over ideological differences of this kind, the real focus is drawn away from the more pertinent issues at hand. The ‘vote for change’ has not yielded very successful results at the national level. In the light of such digressions, hopefully, the story won’t repeat itself in Tripura.
– Contributed by Ankita
Picture: Lenin statue being razed in Tripura (Screengrab from a video)