Tripura, India's third smallest state, has only two Lok Sabha constituencies but 23 candidates are all set to battle it out over them. In the first phase of polling on April 11, reportedly over 13.17 lakh electors will decide the fate of 13 contestants for the West Tripura constituency and on April 18, phase 2, close to 12.56 voters will make their choice from 10 candidates for the East Tripura Lok Sabha seat.
Eighteen candidates filed their nomination papers for this constituency, but after the scrutiny of papers, only 13 remain in the fray. They cover the gamut from biggies BJP, Congress to regional players like the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT), the ruling party's alliance partner in the state, Amra Bangalee, Ambedkarite Party of India and All India Trinamool Congress to leftist outfits such as Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) and Communist Party of India (Marxist). Five independent candidates are contesting, too.
The five rejected nominations includes two independent candidates, one each from IPFT and SUCI (C), as well as the only name fielded by the Tipraland State Party.
The Left won the Tripura West seat 12 times since the first Lok Sabha election took place in 1952 and the Congress four times. The Congress For Democracy, a breakaway faction of the party, secured the seat in 1977. In 2014, CPI-M candidate Sankar Prasad Datta had won by a huge margin.
Campaign for this constituency ended at 5pm on Tuesday. West Tripura district Superintendent of Police Ajit Pratap Singh told PTI that 21 polling stations have been identified as vulnerable and 111 as critical in the constituency.
All the 10 candidates that filed nomination papers in this constituency were accepted. Apart from five independents, there's one candidate each from BJP, Congress, IPFT, CPI (M) and Amra Bangalee. Campaign for this constituency will continue till April 16.
Since 1952, Left parties won the Tripura East Lok Sabha seats 11 times while the main opposition Congress secured the seat five times. The CPI-M has been winning the seat uninterruptedly since 1996.
Predictions for the upcoming polls
The buzz is that Tripura will witness a four-way battle among the BJP, Congress, CPI (M) and IPFT this time round. Since the state was formed in 1972, either the Left Parties or the Congress held sway, till the BJP in alliance with the IPFT pulled off a spectacular victory in the 2018 Assembly polls, winning 44 seats in the 60-member House. Of this, the BJP tally was 36. The IPFT has two ministers in the nine-member BJP-IPFT ministry.
But now the junior ally is opting to go solo for the Lok Sabha polls and has fielded one candidate in each constituency- and been accused of violating "raj dharma" and "coalition propriety" by the BJP.
The IPFT, which won eight of the nine seats it had contested in the Tripura elections last year, had said in March that the decision was taken because the BJP did not pay heed to its demand that the party be allowed to field a candidate in East Tripura constituency, reserved for Scheduled Tribe. After filing his nomination papers for the Tripura East (reserve) seat, IPFT president and Revenue Minister Narendra Chandra Debbarma said the party would contest the polls to raise the party's statehood demand in Parliament.
The party has been agitating for the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC)- which has jurisdiction over two-thirds of Tripura's total area and is home to over 12.16 lakh people, mostly tribals- to be upgraded to a separate tribal state since 2009. But all political parties, including the BJP, CPI-M and the Congress, have opposed this demand.
However, a recent development may take out the wind from the IPFT's sails- the past two weeks, several party leaders have switched over to the Congress. Does this boil down to a three-way battle for Tripura?
(Edited by: Sushmita Choudhury)