Agartala, Feb 13: The country's lone Left-ruled state Tripura goes for assembly polls Thursday with the ruling CPI-M expected to face a challenge from the opposition Congress, which is out of power in the state for the last 20 years.
In the wake of threats from separatist outfits, a record 40,000 para-military and other security personnel have been deployed along with two air surveillance teams to conduct the polls in a free and fair manner in the northeastern state.
Chief Minister Manik Sarkar said: "Allround development and establishment of peace by controlling four and a half decades old terrorism are our main poll plank."
"The Congress failed to cooperate on any development issues and has now forged an alliance with the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT) that is nothing but a mask of insurgents," he told IANS.
Polling for the 60-member assembly will begin at 7 a.m. Thursday. In all, 23,55,446 people, about half of them women and 53,580 first timers, are eligible to vote to decide the fate of the 249 candidates in the fray. Of the 60 seats, 20 are reserved for tribals and 10 for the Scheduled Castes.
"All preparations are almost complete for the polls," Tripura's Chief Electoral Officer Ashutosh Jindal told IANS.
Of the 249 aspirants, 15 are women, two are 26-year-old candidates and two are 85-year-old veterans who testing their electoral fortune.
Major political parties, including the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the Congress, have expressed satisfaction over the measures and multi-pronged strategies of the Election Commission to hold the polls in a free atmosphere and with absolute neutrality.
"The Election Commission has deployed specially modified Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in all the polling booths across the state to check possible malpractice and other irregularities," Jindal said.
"Two Indian Air Force helicopters have started aerial surveillances covering all remote places and bordering areas," a senior police official said.
"Little over 18,000 poll officials escorted by security forces have left for the 3,041 polling stations across the state," the election official said.
The CPI-M has fielded 55 candidates while its partners - the Communist Party of India and Revolutionary Socialist Party have put up two candidates each. The Forward Bloc has fielded one candidate.
The main opposition Congress has nominated 48 candidates and allotted 11 seats to its tribal-based ally, the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT).
One seat has been left for the National Conference of Tripura, a tribal based organisation.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, which has never won a seat in Tripura, has fielded 50 candidates, while candidates of smaller parties and Independents are also in the fray.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, which fielded 22 candidates in 2008, has decided not to contest this time to prevent anti-Left votes from getting splintered.
In 2008, the Left registered a thumping victory. The CPI-M alone won 46 seats and partners CPI and RSP secured one and two seats respectively. The Congress bagged 10 seats and the INPT one.
Led by three chief ministers, Nripen Chakraborty (1978-1988), Dasaratha Deb (1993 to 1998) and Manik Sarkar (1998 till date), the CPI-M-led Left Front, has been in power since 1978 barring one term (1988 to 1993).
During that period, the Congress-led coalition government headed by two chief ministers, Sudhir Ranjan Majumder (1988-91) and Samir Ranjan Barman (1992 to 1993), ruled the state.
The Congress party during its campaign highlighted alleged corruption and uneven development during the Left rule.
The central leaders of all political parties, including Congress vice-president president Rahul Gandhi, union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, BJP president Rajnath Singh and CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat, politburo members Sitaram Yechury and Brinda Karat took part in the month-long election campaign.
According to a senior police official, over 40,000 central para-military troopers, state armed forces from Kerala, Punjab, Gujarat, Mizoram besides Tripura State Rifles and state police have been deployed across the state for free and fair conduct of the polls.