New Delhi: Tripura is all set to elect a new Assembly. These Assembly elections, however, are being watched with greater interest because Tripura, which has often been described as 'mini-Bengal', is the first Left-ruled state to go to polls after the Nandigram violence.
The polling percentage was 55 per cent till 1430 hrs IST. Officials say the polls have been by and large peaceful and no violent incidents have been reported.
Barring one term, the Left Front has ruled Tripura since 1978, and the CPI(M)-led coalition, is now looking for a fourth consecutive term. Even now, it is ahead of its rivals and many predict that it will be re-elected.
The coalition is now, however, locked in a direct fight not just with bitter rivals, the Congress, but also its ally, the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura or INPT and it may find the going heavy.
In another set-back for the CPI(M), the Forward Bloc, one of the Left Front constituents and a former ally, is contending on its own strength in these elections after disagreements over seat-sharing with the CPI(M).
The run-up to the polls also saw Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh campaign for the Congress.
Taking a dig at the Left's allegedly coercive methods of extracting votes, AICC President Sonia Gandhi told people gathered at an election rally, "You have to stand firm in spite of all threats and all your fears."
The state elections of 2003 had seen the Left Front, mainly the CPM, winning 41 seats out of 60, with the Congress-INPT combine accruing the remaining 19. The coalition has remained in power thanks to its grass-root workers.
Some of the main issues that have come up in the lead up to the polls are reduced tribal insurgency, developmental claims of the Left government, widespread unemployment, quality of border fencing on the Tripura-Bangladesh border, promotion of the indigenous language Kokborok and the need for a new train service from Manu to Ambasa.
The issue of Kokborok - the language of Tripura's ethnic population, and the medium of instruction for its students - is a particularly touchy one for each ruling party has, during its tenure, instituted changes to its script.
While the ruling Left Front has preferred to impart Kokborok in the Bengali script, regional parties like the Indigenous Nationalist Part of Tripura insist on the Roman script.
The script was changed thrice in the past and the INPT has declared that they would do it again.
"If we come to power, we will definitely change the script back to Roman," asserted INPT Spokesperson, Shrutoranjan Khisa.
Sentiments are also less than warm when development issues are raised. Many residents have pointed out that the Left Front has not delivered much by way of development.
"I don't see that much development. For instance, the roads are the same but with new carpeting," a Tripura resident, Sumit Chakarbarty, says.
Altogether 313 candidates are in fray for 60 seats. Over 20 lakh voters can exercise their franchise today. Voter turn-out is low, so far, but is expected to pick up as the day progresses.
200 companies of additional central para-military forces have been deployed for a peaceful election.