Behind BJP's All-Out Campaign in Tripura, RSS Has A Crucial Role

Over the decades, the BJP had a very limited presence in the whole of the northeast, and especially in Left-dominated Tripura. But since the party came to power in the Centre and Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of winning the seven north-eastern states, efforts have been on in Tripura to make up for that deficiency, building a political base up from the grass-root level.

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Behind BJP's All-Out Campaign in Tripura, RSS Has A Crucial Role

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Sunil Deodhar, a 52-year-old former RSS man who was PM Modi's campaign manager in Varanasi.

Agartala:  Out to conquer Tripura in Sunday's assembly election, the BJP is banking heavily on its development plank. Under 25 years of Left rule, the tiny north-eastern state, it says, has lost out hugely in terms of progress. To ensure that the message goes through, two men have been laying the groundwork for three years, both from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological mentor of the BJP.

Over the decades, the BJP had a very limited presence in the whole of the northeast, and especially in Left-dominated Tripura. But since the party came to power in the Centre and Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of winning the seven north-eastern states, efforts have been on in Tripura to make up for that deficiency, building a political base up from the grass-root level.

Today, of the 25 lakh voters in Tripura, a formidable one-fifth, 5 lakh, are members of the BJP, said Sunil Deodhar, a 52-year-old former RSS man who was PM Modi's campaign manager in Varanasi.  In 2014, Mr Deodhar was brought in to Tripura as the party in-charge.
Mr Deodhar pressed into service Biplab Kumar Deb, another RSS man and a former resident of the state who had gone to settle in Delhi. Mr Deb, 46, was made the chief of the party's Tripura unit - the youngest in the BJP to hold such a post.

The recruitment drive was hugely successful, Mr Deodhar said. "In last one year, over 50,000 came from the CPM, over 1.5 lakh from Congress, and 2 lakh people from the state's smaller parties. Besides, about 1.75 lakh people joined us through online registration," Mr Deodhar said.

Local leaders say right wing support has been crucial in the party's growth spurt. Over the last four decades, right-wing organisations had a presence in Tripura, but they have mainly been confined to the tribal areas, focusing on conversion issues.

This time, the BJP is contesting 11 of the 20 reserved tribal seats, leaving the rest  for local ally IPFT.

At Teliamura, 45 km from Agartala, NDTV met BJP candidate in the reserved tribal seat of Krishnapur.

Atul Debbarma, a 53-year-old Delhi-based doctor, is a debutant in electoral politics. But for over a year, he had been working among Tripura's tribals on social issues through a non-profit. Tripur Kshitriya Samaj, he said, has been around for 11 years and "in between, we have collaborated with right-wing organisations like the RSS".

His election manager Diptanu Debbarma said now, tribals are increasingly joining the RSS, which is giving young people a platform.
The BJP candidate in tribal reserved Bagma constituency Ram Pada Jamatia is a veteran RSS functionary. His Jamatia community was the first among the tribal groups to be tapped by the Viswa Hindu Parishad, a right wing group affiliated to the RSS. The Jamatia Hoda, an apex body of the community, runs schools across the state to impart what they claim is nationalist moral teaching.

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But all these efforts had failed to have any political spin-off. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, the BJP had tried to expand its base in Tripura. It had gained some support, but that ebbed away once the BJP lost power at the Centre.

During the last assembly elections in the state in 2013, the party had less than 20,000 members in the state and polled less than 2 per cent votes.

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