The King's Speech: Why the BJP may find it difficult to return to power in Tripura

If the Tipra Motha goes it alone in the 2023 state polls with its tribal homeland demand, it could well end up sweeping the 20 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes in the assembly. 

Published: 01st November 2022 05:13 PM  |   Last Updated: 03rd November 2022 08:35 PM   |  A+A-

Tripura royal scion Pradyot Deb Barman

Tripura royal scion Pradyot Deb Barman (Photo| Facebook)

A regional party in Tripura has queered the pitch for a separate tribal homeland in the rundown to next year's state assembly elections, a move that could upset existing political equations and threaten the ruling BJP's return to power. 

In 2018, the BJP had won 36 seats in the 60-member state assembly to topple the long-ruling CPM-led Left Front in a surprise victory. Its ally, the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT), won eight seats but the alliance helped BJP garner a lion's share of tribal votes ensuring its stunning performance.

That does not seem easy now with the rise of the Tiprasa Indigenous Progressive Regional  Alliance (TIPRA) and its ally, the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra (INPT), which swept the polls to the state's tribal autonomous body last year, by winning 18 out of 28 seats. 

The BJP won only nine seats and its ally IPFT none. 

The CPM-led Left Front, which had long controlled the Tripura Tribals Areas Autonomous District Council (TTADC), was dethroned.

The TIPRA Motha is led by royal scion 'Maharaj' Pradyot Kishore Debbarman, who has successfully mobilized the tribals, especially the youth, with his frenzied pitch for a separate 'Greater Tipraland'. Though he has not explicitly spelt it out, most tribals see the TTADC, which accounts for two-thirds of the present Tripura's land area, as the future Tipraland.

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This separate homeland pitch has not only helped the 'Maharaj' reduce other tribal parties to near oblivion but also put all national parties, including the BJP, under huge pressure because he refuses to negotiate with any of them unless they give a written commitment for Greater Tipraland. 

"Unless the national party gives written commitment for Greater Tripraland and implements the sixth schedule of the Constitution in letter and spirit, we won't forge any alliance with them for the assembly elections," the royal scion said recently.

Terming the demand for a separate state "a constitutional right" for the tribals, Pradyot Kishore urged the Centre to call his party - which rules the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) - for dialogue.

"We are fighting to achieve our constitutional right beyond all communal politics and ideology," he said.

ALSO READ | BJP faces tribal party challenge in Tripura

On the Autonomous District Councils, Pradyot Kishore said, "The ADC was set up under the sixth schedule of the Indian constitution in the eighties but till date, no government has not allowed it to function as per the constitutional provisions and enjoy the autonomy laid down in the Act."

"If New Delhi can call Hurriyat and NSCN factions for talks that don't even recognize India's Constitution, then why not us?" Pradyot Kishore has said.   

If the Tipra Motha goes it alone in the 2023 state polls with its tribal homeland demand, it could well end up sweeping the 20 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes in the assembly. 

Any party seeking to form government in the state would then have to sweep or at least garner most of the remaining 40 seats, to cross the halfway mark of 30 on its own steam.

That looks difficult for the ruling BJP because its stellar performance four years ago was largely because it could garner much of the tribal votes through its alliance with the IPFT, which looks in very poor shape now.

Congress leader Sudip Ray Barman's success in retaining his Agartala seat in the state assembly in the June by-election this year points to some possible understanding between the Congress and the Left Front which could be repeated during the 2023 state polls.

Barman was the BJP health minister before he turned dissident and finally returned to his old party, the Congress. Most of the top BJP leaders in Tripura, including present chief minister Manik Saha, were originally with the Congress and they turned to BJP because they resented their High Command's bonhomie with the Left at the Centre.

If the Congress and the Left Front were to enter into some kind of seat-sharing arrangement, their combined vote might help prevent a 2018-type performance by the BJP. If neither the BJP nor the Congress or the Left Front can win 30 or more seats on its own, which is a likely scenario in case of stiff competition for the 40 seats dominated by Bengali voters, then the Tipra Motha may emerge as a kingmaker if it wins most of the 20 tribal reserved seats.

The kingmaker can also emerge as the king if Tipra Motha wins more seats than the three other contenders  - the BJP, the Congress and the Left.

"If Tipra Motha gets 17 to 18 seats and the three others each get fifteen or less that is the ideal scenario for Pradyot Kishore. He can then pitch himself as Chief Minister or as the senior partner in any alliance," said a senior Tripura tribal leader, who wished not to be named. But the leader said that it will a huge dilemma for the 'Maharaj' to scale down from his separate tribal homeland demand once he is confronted with the prospect of leading the state.

"Even getting into an alliance with any national party will not be easy if Pradyot insists on written commitment for the homeland demand, because none of the three big parties will agree to a vivisection of Tripura," the tribal leader said.

Neither the BJP nor the Congress or the Left would support redrawing boundaries in the Northeast, as is evident from the rejection of the demand for a separate Bodoland that was sought to be carved out of Assam's Bodo tribal areas. 

(Subir Bhaumik is a former BBC correspondent and author on Northeast India. These are the writer's views.)


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