Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which was virtually non-existent in the state in 2013 polls has emerged as the main contender in the Tripura Assembly elections to be held on Sunday.
The 60-seat assembly will see a direct contest between ruling Left and new entrant BJP, as the main Opposition party of the state Congress gasps for funds, leadership and volunteers.
While BJP has pumped in funds and efforts to win Tripura polls, Congress workers could not be more discouraged.
BJP campaign in the state has seen rallies and events by as many as 45 Central leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, party president Amit Shah, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari and UP CM Yogi Adityanath. Congress, on the other hand, is yet to welcome any members of the Gandhi family. Sonia Gandhi, who was reportedly scheduled to hold a rally in the state, cancelled in the last minute.
Six Congress MLAs and over 10,000 party workers left to join BJP over party's inactive attitude and lack of motivation to contest CPIM rule.
Congress has been the main Opposition party in the state for 25 years and has been in power twice, but despite a huge anti-incumbency factor during 2013 polls, the party did not give a serious challenge to Left in the state to protect strategic alliance at the Centre.
Demotivated from lack of empathy from AICC, Congress workers are migrating to BJP.
Also read | Amit Shah exudes confidence of forming government in Tripura, says promises in election manifesto will be fulfiled
BJP has not only strengthened its grassroot-level team by chipping away Congress but is also actively trying to woo the erstwhile Tripura King, Maharaja Kirit Pradyot Deb Barman Manikya, who is Congress Party's working president in the state.
According to a report, both Amit Shah and North East in-charge Himanta Biswa Sarma have been in talks with the family to convince Deb Barman to switch sides. Sources told Indian Express that if he joins, he may even be pitched as the party’s chief ministerial candidate, in an effort by the BJP to tap into tribal sentiments.
BJP's vision document states that stories of Tripura’s erstwhile royal rulers would be included in school curriculum and Agartala airport would be renamed after Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya, the last king of Tripura.
The saffron party has joined hands with the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT) to take on the Left Front. BJP has fielded candidates on 51 seats, while IPFT is contesting on remaining 9.
Congress, on the other hand, is flying solo. The party fielded candidates for all 60 seats, but one candidate withdrew nomination, reducing Congress fight to 59 seats.
Also read | Congress releases list of candidates for Tripura
It has been reported that Congress may soon seek an alliance with Trinamool Congress (TMC), which itself is fighting to remain relevant in the state.
The TMC, which had faced a jolt last year in the state after six of its MLAs joined the BJP, has formed an alliance with the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra (INPT) and the National Conference of Tripura for the upcoming election.
The Mamata Banerjee-led party has fielded candidates from 24 constituencies in the north-eastern state.
All Opposition parties are essentially fighting on anti-CPIM and pro-development tag, thus alliances would essentially depend on Central dynamics.
Lack of development and high unemployment rates are the key issues dogging the Left after 25 years of rule.
BJP, which has been fighting election of the 'Vikas' plank across India, has promised Special Economic Zones (SEZs) would be set up in the state for sectors like food processing, bamboo, IT and textiles.
The party's vision document promises employment to every household, free education for women till graduation, 7th pay commission salary to state government employees and free smartphones to youth, among other sops.
Also read | Arun Jaitley releases BJP's vision document, says BJP main rival of Left Front
Congress promised development, employment and waiver of farmers' loans in Tripura if voted to power in the state.
The Congress manifesto also promised direct funding from the Centre to the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC), introducing the 7th pay commission benefits for state government employees and renaming Agartala Airport after the last king of the state, Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya Bahadur.
While, ruling CPIM claimed that its 25 years of rule has been a 'Swarnajug' or golden age in Tripura. The party's 64-page manifesto highlighted the continuous socio-economic development of the people in the state during the past 20 years although there was no specific promise to the people of the state, especially unemployed youths.
As CPIM fights major anti-incumbency waive, BJP will look to sweep in and take over another northeastern milestone. But will Congress manage to win a seat to remain in the Opposition is yet to be seen.
The 60-seat assembly goes to poll in one phase on February 18. The results will be declared on March 3 along with Nagaland and Meghalaya