By Ashis Biswas
In Tripura, with only days left for the Assembly polls, the tribal vote remained set for a split between new entrant Tipra Motha(TM) party and the IPFT(Indigenous Peoples’ Front of Tripura).This followed the failure of a major effort made by TM leader Mr Pradyot Debbarma during the past few weeks, to work out an alliance between the older IPFT and the new party he leads.
The development brought major political relief to mainstream non tribal parties like Congress, the CPI(M)-led Left front and the BJP. While their leaders remained tight-lipped, it was common knowledge that they had been worried by the possibility of a united tribal party winning close to 20 seats in the coming election.
Prospects for a greater consolidation among tribal voters looked dim after a joint declaration made by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) and its ally the IPFT, outlining the seat sharing formula worked out for the 2023 polls scheduled on February16 .
The BJP would contest 55 seats on its own, leaving 5 for the IPFT, in the 60-strong house. Altogether 20 seats are reserved for the indigenous tribes in Tripura. In 2018, the IPFT had contested 12 seats in alliance with the BJP, which supported its claim for a tribal-ruled state.
In the outgoing Assembly, the IPFT had eight MLAs. However, three had joined the TM , while one died recently, leaving the party with four MLAs only. An increasing interest among younger tribal voters in the TM had led toa weakening of the IPFT’s appeal in recent times. The incumbent BJP, enjoying strong support at the centre and having sponsored a slew of infra-related developments /connectivity projects in the state, thus retained the upper hand in seat sharing talks.
This explained why the IPFT decided to accept fewer seatsin alliance going into the 2023 polls from its bigger partner BJP, to remain part of the coalition that had defeated the entrenchedCPI(M)-led Left Front in 2018 polls.
Somewhat surprisingly, despite the strong pre-poll running made by the TM so far and the keen interest shown by established parties like Congress and the CPI(M)in working out a pre-poll understanding with it, Mr Debbarma’s efforts to win major allies came a cropper . The unexpected negative outcome did not occur because of any lack of effort on the TM’s part.
According to analysts, the apparent pre-condition announced by Mr Debbarma addressed to other parties willing to work out a pre-poll understanding — they must declare their support for a bigger tribal state in Tripura before any political dialogue — emerged as a major stumbling block. No party was willing to commit itself to such a demand without learning more about the TM’s visions and plans for the proposed new bigger state.
In preliminary talks, TM leaders displayed no maps, let alone circulate documents and booklets, or release other concrete details about the new state they wanted to be created within Tripura. The very concept of a new state, while undoubtedly carrying a major emotional appeal for indigenous tribals who have been complaining of being politically and otherwise sidelined for a long time, remained nebulous at best.
Mr Debbarma had declared that the bigger state would beset up within Tripura itself, without involving its neighbours. But this remained at odds with the overall political appeal in his agenda, according to which the TM would be the undisputed representative body of all Tripuri indigenous tribals no matter where they lived. That effectively meant the TM would be the new political focus of Tripuri tribals even if they happened to be living in nearby Bangladesh , in areas like Bandarban, Chittagong etc — a tall order indeed.
In contrast, IPFT leaders chose to play safe. In 2018, they too had called for a separate Tipra state. The ruling BJP as with most major parties, had not opposed the call in principle. However, in 2023, while the IPFT’ s demand has not been rejected, nobody can claim that any steps have been taken by the centre or the state for setting up a new tribal state since 2018,asNE media analysts point out.
In recent times again the IPFT scaled down its demand by indicating its demand for a tribal-ruled state within Tripura, its territory to be the present area administered by the tribal autonomous district council — around 2/3rds of the state’s area.
No wonder the IPFT could not go along with Mr. Debbarma’s call for a bigger tribal Tipra state. Mr, Debbarma had visited Delhi where he met senior BJP leaders who explored the possibilities for a possible linkage with the TM. But the talks did not go well. Later, he pulled up the BJP in a tweet, accusing the bigger party of having pressured the IPFT to stay away from aligning with the TM.
Meanwhile, inner party fighting and minor clashes were reported among BJP ranks from some areas, as angry dissidents, enraged at not winning tickets, demonstrated against official candidates and raided party offices. There were reports of resentment and bitterness among IPFT ranks, too as most supporters felt their party had been let down.
Similarly, there was a major disagreement between Congress and the LF over seat sharing. Barely hours after the Left had announced that Congress would contest 13 seats in alliance, leaving the remaining seats for the CPI(M), CPI, the RSP and the Forward Bloc, angry protests among Congress ranks forced state leaders to change their position. They announced that Congress would contest 17, not 13 seats as declared as before. There were also objections on certain issues from the FB and the RSP.
Former CPI(M) chief Minister Mr Manik Sarkar who is not contesting this time, was scheduled to return to Tripura, even as the party’s Central Committee meeting was being held in Kolkata, to intervene in the contentious issues that have developed. (IPA Service)