Agartala: Taking a giant leap in its Mission Northeast, the BJP on Saturday scored "poriborton" (change) in Tripura, ending the unchallenged 25-year rule of the Left and ejecting Manik Sarkar, reputed as India's poorest chief minister.
- BJP and ally People's Front of Tripura end Left rule in Tripura
- CPM ruled Tripura for 25 years, Manik Sarkar was chief minister for 20
- 48-year-old Biplab Kumar Dev emerges as BJP's top pick for chief minister
Describing the Tripura election as "epoch-making" in a series of tweets, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: "The historic victory in Tripura is as much an ideological one. It is a win for democracy over brute force and intimidation."
The demolition of four-time Chief Minister Manik Sarkar's almost impenetrable fortress in Tripura is most alarming news for the opposition in the first of a series of polls this year.
For a long time after counting began in three states including Meghalaya and Nagaland, the Left and the BJP were locked in a neck-and-neck battle in 60-seat Tripura. As the BJP surged ahead, its Bihar leader Sushil Kumar Modi posted this update on social media: "CPM Tripura fort to crumble in next 1 hour."
The BJP and its alliance partner Indigenous People's Front of Tripura galloped ahead two hours after counting began. Soon, BJP workers wearing saffron caps and saffron holi colours were seen dancing and celebrating on the roads of Agartala.
Biplab Kumar Dev, 48, is emerging as the BJP's top pick for chief minister.
"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 PM Modi also addressing four rallies in which he urged people 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 strategy for the state was to pit 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 the 69-year-old to be 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.