For a long time after counting began, the Left and the BJP were locked in a neck-and-neck battle. As the BJP surged ahead, Bihar BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi posted this update on social media: “CPM Tripura fort to crumble in next 1 hour.”
BJP workers wearing saffron caps and awash with saffron holi colours burst into celebrations on the roads of Agartala.
Biplab Kumar Dev, a 48-year-old former gym instructor, is emerging as the BJP’s top pick for chief minister.
Putting up a remarkable show, the BJP and its alliance partner, Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, galloped ahead two hours after counting began for the state’s 59 assembly constituencies. Polling was cancelled in one constituency in the 60-member assembly after the death of a CPI-M candidate a week before the February 18 election.
The Left has ruled Tripura for the past 25 years and Manik Sarkar, 69, was chief minister for 20 of them.
“It is a historic verdict. CPM gave a spirited fight but people have voted for poriborton, accepted our slogan of ‘Chalo Paltai (let’s change),” senior BJP leader Ram Madhav told reporters.
A CPM leader targeted Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). “We have already complained. The Election Commission is answerable,” said CPM leader Suneet Chopra.
The BJP campaigned aggressively in Tripura, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi also addressing four rallies in which he asked the voters to pick HIRA (H for highway, I for Internet way, R for roadways and A for airways) instead of Manik”, using a word play between hira (diamond) and manik (gem).
BJP leaders say their key strategy for the state pitted the Manik Sarkar government against “Modi Sarkar”.
Working meticulously through the Left bastion, the BJP sent 42,000 workers and assigned one each for every 60 voters. In the last six months, each of these leaders met voters every fortnight.
The BJP was undeterred by Manik Sarkar’s squeaky clean image; data has recently showed him as India’s poorest chief minister with assets worth around Rs. 26 lakh to his name.
“It doesn’t matter that the Chief Minister is clean, that he has only 1,600 in his pocket that is wife takes an auto-rickshaw. He presided over a corrupt government for so many terms,” said Sunil Deodhar, the BJP’s Tripura in-charge.
Sunil Deodhar, significantly, also handled PM Modi’s campaign in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh in 2014. The prime minister won from both Varanasi and Gujarat’s Vadodara.
“Because of master-strategist Amit Shah and the help of Himanta Biswa Sarma and Ram Madhav, we are coming to power,” Mr Deodhar said.