In 2018 the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) securing 36 seats in the 60-Member Legislative Assembly had changed the political landscape of Tripura by ending the 25 years rule of Left Front led by Communist Party of India (Marxist) – CPI (M) popularly known as CPM. But in the last five years, the BJP could not match the high expectations that accompanied their success in 2018 in the stronghold of Left Front. Replacement of their Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb with Manik Saha last year might be an attempt to sail their political ship smoothly in the rising waves of Tripraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA) Motha led by Pradyot Kishore Manikya Debbarma.
Pradyot himself set up the TIPRA Motha in 2021 after he quit the Congress – of which he was state president – in September 2019 over differences on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
In no time TIPRA Motha, riding on Pradyot’s Greater Tipraland demand, swept the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) elections of 2021.
According to Pradyot, ‘Greater Tipraland’ will be a separate state carved out of the existing state of Tripura and it includes the region under TAADC and 36 villages out of it within the Tripura state boundaries.
The new ethnic homeland will primarily be for indigenous communities of the region which have been reduced to a numerical minority due to the influx of displaced Bengalis from East Bengal during Partition.
Another wave of Bengali migrants took refuge in Tripura during the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971 hiking the number migrant population over the indigenous communities. According to 2011 Census, Bengali was the mother tongue of 24.14 lakh people in Tripura. This represents two-thirds of the 36.74 lakh population then, and nearly three times the 8.87 lakh who speak Kokborok – a language of the Tibeto-Burman family and the mother tongue of the largest tribal group.
In the new political context of Tripura, the TIPRA Motha has emerged as an unsurmountable political force, which has had a meteoric rise since winning 18 of 28 seats in TTAADC in 2021 riding on a homegrown demand for the autonomy of Tripura’s indigenous people and banking on Pradyot’s own personal appeal as the descendant of the state’s erstwhile Manikya dynasty.
It may be mentioned that Pradyot’s father Kirit Bikram Manikya, though a minor at the time, was the king of Tripura when the independent kingdom merged with India on October 15, 1949.
Significantly, in a state that had more than eight tribal parties merely two years ago, Pradyot’s new avatar has narrowed down it to two – TIPRA Motha and the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), which, despite several desertions and defections, is sticking to its 2018 ally, the BJP.
Since 2021 after the TTAADC elections, three IPFT MLAs and one BJP MLA have joined TIPRA Motha and till the last minute before announcing the list of candidates for February 16 Tripura State Legislative Assembly election, Pradyot tried his level best to bring IPFT in the fold of TIPRA Motha in the larger interest of the indigenous communities of Tripura.
Notably, after a series of defections, resignations and deaths of legislatures cutting across party lines since the 2018 election, the BJP now has 33 members in the 60-Member House, the IPFT four, CPI(M) 13 and the Congress one; the rest of the seats are vacant.
Now, the TIPRA Motha is contesting in 42 Assembly Constituencies (ACs) which includes 22 seats outside the 20 ST seats and marks the first time any tribal party in the state has fielded non-tribal candidates. But many see this confidence of TIPRA Motha as overreach considering the party was formed merely two years ago.
However, as the state elections draw near, the TIPRA Motha though formed merely two years ago, has emerged in Tripura as an unsurmountable political force alongside national parties such as the BJP, Congress and CPI (M). And the BJP’s fight this time is not as easy as it was in 2018.
Notably, the Union Home Minister Amit Shah on February 6 launched a scathing attack on the TIPRA Motha in poll-bound Tripura, alleging the regional party has a “secret understanding” with the Congress and CPI (M) and is “trying to bring back Communist rule in the state by misleading indigenous people”.
Amit Shah also attacked the CPI (M) and Congress, which has decided to contest the February 16 elections together, saying the two parties “never respected tribals”.
According to reports, the Union Home Minister Amit Shah addressing a rally at Santirbazar in South District said: “The CPI (M) and Congress have a universal alliance. The TIPRA Motha has a secret understanding with them. So, if you (people) vote for the TIPRA Motha; it will go to the Communists. If you vote for the Congress, it will also go to the Communists. So, if you vote for any of them, the Communists will form the government. If you want the BJP again, then cast your vote for the Lotus symbol.”
Taking a swipe at the Left-Congress alliance too, he said: “The Congress and Communists ruled Tripura for over 50 years, yet there was no development. The Congress has given you ‘andhakaar’ (darkness), but we (BJP) have given you ‘adhikaar’ (rights).”
Just a week ahead of the Tripura Legislative Assembly election to win over the hearts and minds of the indigenous communities of Tripura for whom the TIPRA Motha fights, the ruling BJP on February 9 promised greater autonomy to tribals, increase in farmers’ financial assistance and setting up of rubber, bamboo and agar-based industries to make ‘Unnato Tripura, Sreshtho Tripura’.
The BJP said that if it returns to power after the February 16 Assembly polls, it would establish the Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya Tribal University, provide cooked food three times a day at Rs 5 per meal under the PM Kisan – increase the financial assistance from Rs 6,000 to Rs 8,000 per annum, double the per-family annual capital from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 10 lakh under the Ayushman Bharat Yojana and housing to all registered beneficiaries.
Releasing the party’s manifesto – ‘Sankalp Patra 2023’, BJP President J.P. Nadda also announced setting up a Regional Institute of Medical Sciences hospital in Agartala.
Saying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised HIRA (Highway, I-way, Railway and Airway) to Tripura and in this direction, the state has developed a lot, he announced that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would take Tripura on the path of DTH – development, transformation and harmony.
The BJP promised a Balika Somriddhi Scheme, a bond of Rs 50,000 to each family belonging to the financially weaker sections on the birth of a girl and Mukhyamantri Konya Atmonirbhor Yojana to provide free scooty (two wheeler) to meritorious college-going female students.
According to the manifesto, they also promised to provide two free LPG cylinders to all the beneficiaries under the PM Ujjwala Yojana, distribute land pattas to all eligible landless citizens, provide affordable housing to all registered beneficiaries under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana Gramin and Urban by 2025.
The BJP’s ‘Sankalp Patra 2023’ promised to provide free rice and wheat to all eligible PDS beneficiaries every month and provide edible oil at a subsidised rate, four times a year through the Public Distribution Systems.
The BJP also promised to restructure the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) to provide it with greater autonomy and additional legislative, executive, administrative, and financial powers, within the framework of the proposed 125th Constitution Amendment Bill.
The ruling party also promised, under the proposed Matsya Sahayak Yojana — annual financial assistance of Rs 6,000 to all fishermen, provide access to tap water in all households under the Jal Jeevan Mission by 2024, invest an amount of Rs 500 crore to provide collateral-free loans of up to Rs 10 lakh to MSMEs and Entrepreneurs with a 100 per cent credit guarantee cover.
The BJP also assured to provide smartphones to around 50,000 meritorious college-going students under Mukhyamantri Yuva Yogayog Yojana, and launch the Tripura Road Maintenance and Upgradation Programme with an investment of Rs 1,000 crore to upgrade and modernise road infrastructure in the state over the next 5 years.
If the BJP comes to power in the ensuing elections, Rs 600 crore would be invested in the Tripura Unnata Gram Fund for further developing rural infrastructure, ensuring last-mile delivery of caste certificates by providing caste certificates within 15 days of submission of the application.
Establish Sachin Debbarman Performing Arts Academy to focus on popularising the state’s folk dance, music and theatre, expand the tourism economy of Tripura by investing Rs 1,000 crore and launch the Tripura Tourism Skill Mission to provide skill development training and employment to one lakh people, are the other promises made in the BJP election manifesto.
Aapparently, the BJP is seeking re-election not so much based on its track record in the State in the last five years, but by highlighting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image, Government of India Schemes and the Union Budget besides promises for a greater autonomy of TTAADC, beneficiay schemes for the tribals, establishment of university and other institutions with many freebies. While the Left Front-Congress Alliance and the TIPRA Motha have been raising issues of corruption, misuse of government machinery, the reign of fear, and unemployment in the State, the BJP warns the indigenous tribal people saying the other parties are trying to divide Tripura instead of responding to the questions about its governance. Moreover, the BJP is projecting the TIPRA Motha as its main rival.
Nevertheless, TIPRA Motha has emerged as an unsermountable key political player in Tripura politics and main rival to the ruling national party, BJP.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics