Eight Reasons How Congress should benefit from suspension of its CLP Leader in Tripura
In a dramatic development in Tripura the Congress Party has suspended Sudip Roy Barman from the party after he raised questions regarding its political understanding with Trinamool Congress in recently held assembly election in West Bengal. He was the leader of the Congress Legislative Party (CLP). Along with him the provincial head of the Youth Congress has also been sacked by its high command. This has created a ripple in political circles in this tiny state of Northeast. Many are viewing this as a big setback for the oldest political party of the country in the state. The question being raised now is whether this will result in sharp decline of the Congress where it has been always a formidable force. This article examines why Sudip Roy Barman & Cos~` move to join All India Trimamool Congress (or some believe Bharatiya Janata Party) and their antics in Kolkata and Agartala are not going to help them and why Congress should convert this challenge into an opportunity.
1. Sudip Roy Barman was the President of Tripura Pradesh Congress in 2013 under whom the assembly election was fought. Under his leadership the party managed to get only 10 seats, lowest in 25 years. Immediately after the result was declared, he pulled all muscle to get the position of Leader of Opposition in the State Assembly which comes with perks as that position guarantees a Cabinet Minister’s equivalent facilities. Many believe that he should have put more efforts in strengthening the party rather than taking the ‘lucrative’ position. In any case the Leader of Opposition in the earlier Assembly had shown a staler performance and the same leader won the election again. Barman’s performance in Assembly could not match his predecessor’s ability in and outside the Assembly.
2. Congress lost the power in the state in 1993, and since then has never come to power. The last Congress Chief Minister was Samir Ranjan Barman, the father of Sudip. He has been in helm of affairs of the party for significant period of time. The father and son rotated the post of PCC president for 15 long years during which the party never could make in-roads into formidable forts on the Reds-the Communist Party of India (Marxist), particularly in rural areas. In 2003 assembly election, which Congress fought under the leadership of incumbent President Birajit Sinha, it put up a tough fight against the well-oiled machinery of CPI (M). Sans this election in all other elections which Congress fought under the Barmans, the friction-ridden party could not put a fight except for in some selected seats in and around state capital and some select pocket boroughs.
3. The Congress and its junior partner have ruled Tripura during 1988-93. The Chief Ministership of the senior Barman in the second half of this regime saw sprout of unprecedented hooliganism and law and order situation was in its nadir during which time even then Chief Secretary was physically attacked by goons in the heart of the capital city. The Junior Barman, then an aspiring young leader, with his notorious gang created situation in the state capital whereby parents feared about sending their young daughters to colleges, markets used to get closed at the dusk and this misguided youths under wrong protection operating from various nook and corner of the city increasingly started behaving like any mafia gang in other parts of the country and created a strong sense despair for the general party. About twenty years later the same pattern of hooliganism was made in public display by the same person, then the President of Pradesh Congress when he beat up a senior Army officer in open daylight. The video of the incident went viral in social media but somehow the oldest party of the country turned a blind eye on this. This happened just before the state assembly election and the public got reminded again about the dark days of 90s. The same operating model was on display again when Barman’s supporters went berserk inside the Congress head quarter at Agartala and ransacked the office after Congress high command suspended him early this month.
4. Tripura has a significant number of people who migrated to the state from East Pakistan during the partitions-in 1947 and 1971. Many of these families have conviction that but for the strong leadership of then Congress party both in Delhi and Tripura it was impossible for them to get the kind of political support and settlement in Tripura. One will not be surprised to see many families in Tripura who keep the photograph Indira Gandhi, instrumental in liberating Bangladesh at the same league as Maa Durga, the most revered goddess of the Bengali, who constitute about 65 percent of the state’s population. For these families Indira Congress is as inseparable as Hilsha from their life.
5. The Congress has got several upsets in Tripura. In 1977 they drew blank in state assembly after ruling the state for years; in 1999 Lok sabha election it got reduced to third position behind the Trinamool Congress, a party which attracted many anti-communists votes as a better alternative of the Left then. But the party bounced back from all such setbacks as Left alternative in the state has never been provided by any other party than this age-old institution. Despite all its drawbacks, the party coexists in the DNA of the people of Tripura. This can be verified from the fact that in last 30 years’ assembly elections, Congress and its allies have always obtained more than 40 percent of the popular votes. In states like Uttar Pradesh this would result in getting thumping majority with almost 2/3 rd of the seats.
6. In many ways, Congress party is going through a transition now at national level. There is no such indication that the large space it occupies today for secular and inclusive polity is getting shifted to any other party or parties despite small hiccups like loss in state elections, post 2014. In similar way, people in Tripura have expressed its faith again and again in this party. It’s different matter that it always did not result in the party capturing power. If the party in Tripura can go through a proper way of rectification, there is no reason why it will reduce into only a ‘signboard party’ as many observers as well as the man who got suspended commented of late.
7. The ruling party of Tripura today is heavily dependent on a single leader. There are doubts in many quarters now whether militant way of pursuing a political ideology with regimented organizational structure, as advocated by the CPI (M) in the state for long, is sustainable anymore. Demographically Tripura has a lot similarity with West Bengal. In West Bengal the CPI (M) and other Left parties are on decline and there is no obvious sign of them gaining their lost ground. By their own finding, the youths which comprises today large chunk of the population are not anymore getting attracted to the Communist parties. After implementations of various acts like the Right to Education etc, it has become difficult for CPI (M) to keep youths interested genuinely to the party in Tripura.
8. For BJP and Trinamool Congress it will be a humongous task to occupy the anti-Left space for it requires strong presence in the nook and corner of the state, in the psyche of the people and in the DNA of the system of the people which comprises a rainbow combination of Bengalis, Tribal, Hindustanis and Manipuri and others. And these are heterogeneous groups- for examples the tribals in the state comprise of 19 different sub communities. Within this tiny state which is equivalent to Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra in size, the Bengalis speak distinctively four different types of language - Chittagangi, Nuakhali, Moimonsingh and Sylethy; the Reangs speak different language than Tripuris; different dialects are used by tribes originated from Manipur, Mizoram, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha; new converts aspire for more. Only a party which has got its roots with all such communities will succeed politically in this picturesque state. Trinamool has failed to adapt itself into such a DNA in twenty years. It’s doubtful whether right wing BJP will at all realize this reality and can adopt an inclusive viewpoint.
Congress should take Barman’s departure as a foundation to reinvent and rebuild itself. Failure to do so this time will be very costly-people do not want to forgive and forget every time. Or else its footprint will get reduced to only to a footnote, like it has happened to states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal.