By Ashis Biswas
In Tripura, following its recent victory in the Assembly elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost no time to reach out to the tribal Tipra Motha (TP) outfit to address the sensitive issue of securing the long term future of indigenous people. As a first step, the Union Government decided to appoint an Interlocutor to work towards a ‘constitutional solution’ for the problems faced by the tribespeople in the state.
Analysing the move, Northeast-based observers said that developments in Tripura indicated that the overall pattern of centre/state relationship would continue. In broad terms, sub- regional political aspirations had merged with the larger objectives of bigger national parties in the long run in most states in the region. This process usually involved a phase of political partnership/accommodation for some years, between leading regional parties and the BJP or Congress as the ‘national’ party.
Over the years, the regional parties came to resemble the so-called ‘national’ parties in outlook and objectives, as they became more engaged in the process of nation-building and in developing their’ home’ states. Their systematic participation in general elections and the assured allocations of resources provided by India’s growing economy had also served to quell extremist/secessionist sentiments during the past decades.
TM’s dynamic leader Mr Pradyot Manikya Debbarma did not seem upset as he announced the centre’s decision to have an interlocutor, to mediapersons following a meeting at Agartala. Top BJP leaders including Mr Shah, Tripura Chief Minister Dr Manik Saha, All India President Mr J.P. Nadda and leading BJP leader in the Northeast, Mr Himanta Biswa Sarma Assam Chief Minister were present.
Earlier, BJP leaders shortly after winning the state elections narrowly, had indicated that they had never endorsed the TM’s original pre-poll demand — the creation of a new tribal state with a bigger area . There had been several rounds of talks between the TM and the BJP at Agartala and Delhi prior to the polls.
However both sides had then focused on the possibility of working out an alliance, as the outcome of the polls seemed to hang in the balance. While not conceding the demand for a new state, the BJP had promised to continue its dialogue with the TM regarding the future of indigenous tribespeople.
While the TM has failed to emerge as the biggest party in the polls and unable also to elicit any positive response from other major parties like the CPI(M) or Congress on its basic demand for new statehood, it has still become a force to reckon with. As a new political mouthpiece of aspirant tribal sentiments, its demands to secure a better economic deal for the indigenous people can no longer be ignored at any level.
As for the performance of the so-described national parties themselves, neither the BJP nor Congress had much reason to celebrate. True, the BJP managed to win again, but its vote share had dropped considerably. Enjoying a wafer-thin majority in the 60-strong house, it would be critically dependant on support from other parties like the TM on an issue-to-issue basis.
The Central BJP had spared no efforts to ensure a win in Tripura, with major leaders like Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi and Home Minister Mr Amit Shah, and leaders like Mr J P Nadda and Mr Himanta Biswa Sarma virtually camping at Agartala for days on end. Scores of other Central Ministers too had participated in the campaign.
The party was confident that the centre’s liberal financial allotments and other help to Tripura would ensure a comfortable victory. All possible assistance was made available to Tripura to improve its infrastructure, upgrade its aviation, roadways and Railways development schemes. Special attention was given to improve its trade//business/transport linkages with neighbouring Bangladesh. The eventual outcome which saw the state BJP barely scraping through, brought little cheer within the party.
There was noticeably a lack of spontaneous jubilation at BJP programmes after the results were declared, as Mr Modi did not stay too long in the state capital. There was some delay in announcing the name of the new chief Minister, with some speculation that Ms Protima Bhaumik, a Union Minister, was also being considered as a likely CM prospect. Eventually incumbent CM Dr Saha got the official nod, while Ms Bhaumik resigned from the Assembly seat she had just won, presumably to resume her duties in Delhi.
The results at one level, also confirmed that the allegations made against the ruling saffron party by the CPI(M) and Congress were substantially correct. The electorate too, had not totally turned its back on the opposition parties, while the BJP enjoyed better luck at the polls. The fact that the votes were divided three ways, also helped the BJP.
As for the Trinamool Congress (TMC), the party’s campaign was marked by much sound and fury provided jointly by Ms Mamata Banerjee and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee MP, but achieved nothing!
As post-elections developments featuring renewed political violence confirmed, the opposition, with the exception of the TM, must have been subjected to pre-poll intimidation and violence, not to mention facing targeted police oppression, between 2018 and 2023. (IPA Service)