By Ashis Biswas
Although a Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) government has been re-elected in Tripura winning a second term early this year, centre/state talks on the separate tribal statehood demand remain stalled. Despite earlier announcements made by top leaders in the state capital Agartala, about GOI’s move to facilitate a dialogue between the BJP and the resurgent Tipra Motha(TM) tribal party through an interlocutor, there has been little forward movement .
Tribal hopes had been raised as the Union Home Ministry named Mr A.K. Mishra as official interlocutor to carry on unfinished negotiations between the Centre and TM party leader Mr Pradyot Kishore Devvarman, over the latter’s demand for a separate state. Mr Mishra has been an adviser to the union home ministry on various matters and is familiar with Northeast issues and developments.
According to Agartala reports, serious discussions are yet to begin. Prior to the recently concluded state Assembly elections, BJP and TM leaders had met several times in Delhi. Union Home Minister Mr Amit Shah and Mr Devvarman had also held pre-poll talks, late in January this year.
Most observers had then reported that they had discussed the possibility of a pre-poll alliance, although this involved the ruling BJP’s parting of ways with its earlier tribal ally, the Indigenous Peoples’ Front of Tripura (IPFT).
Before the polls, the TM as the new pacesetter in tribal politics, appealed to the IPFT to join forces with it, to ensure a total tribal political consolidation. The TM took the initiative on the basis of its impressive victory in the Tripura autonomous district council elections.
As expected the TM did well in the assembly polls too, winning 13 out of 20 scheduled tribal seats, in the 60-member house. It became the second largest party after the BJP which won 33 seats. However, BJP’s seats had declined from 43 in 2018 and its share of total votes, dipped from 51 per cent to 40 per cent. Meanwhile the third major contender, the Indian National Congress/ CPI(M)-led Left Front combine, won 11 seats.
The outcome brought a somewhat thin single majority win for the BJP. The state party’s performance did not please the party’s central leaders, even as they relished the sweet taste of a hard -fought win.
However, post-poll announcements from the TM later confirmed earlier unsubstantiated reports suggesting an’ understanding’ between it and the ruling party at the centre.
Mr Devvarman announced after the Assembly election that his party would play the role of a constructive opposition. It would not ally with the INC/LF combination in order to pressurize the BJP Government on various issue, but take its own independent stand.
It needs stressing that the TM’s main political programme, seeking to establish an independent tribal state out of Tripura’s territory, was not supported by any major party. The TM had met all major parties like the INC, the CPIM) and the BJP. None supported the TM’s call for a new separate state.
The TM’s isolation on the tribal statehood demand turned into a political advantage for the BJP in its bargaining with the tribal leadership. In contrast, the position of Mr. Devvarman as the leading light in his own party became somewhat compromised, especially among the younger elements: The realization that that a new tribal state was not immediately in the offing began to take root among TM ranks and led to frustration among a section of young tribal TM followers. This has had a minor negative impact on the sensitive tribal-non/tribal relationship on a people-to-people level.
Given this already delicate situation in Tripura, the behaviour of both the BJP and TM leaders continues to fuel further suspicions and distrust among common people, who remain clueless about the much discussed top level talks on the proposed independent territory and related matters. According to one local report, Mr, Devvarman has gone abroad to receive medical treatment. Therefore he cannot be on hand to proceed with negotiations with the centre’s representatives, nor can he consult with his party colleagues.
As for Mr Mishra’s programmes, nothing is officially known. According to indications given by Mr, Devvarman earlier, Mr Mishra was scheduled to arrive in Agartala on May 8 to continue the talks which had begun earlier. He did not come. Later TM leaders announced that he would arrive on May 12 instead, but that also did not take place.
What is happening between the BJP and the TM concerning the handling of issues related to the granting of more powers to the tribals, is not known to anybody in the state BJP or in TM local level. Uncertainty still persists putting questions on the future relationship between BJP and the TM. (IPA Service)