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Tripura: Ex-royal Scion Keeping Cards Close to Chest, Alliance Scene Confusing

Rumours around who Tipra Motha will ally with continue to dominate the political events as elections in the state inch closer.

A warm-up rally in Agartala town on January 21, with participants waving the national flag instead of respective party flags, as decided beforehand by the leaders, gave the first formal indication that the Left and the Congress would fight the upcoming Assembly election scheduled for February 16. The rally slogans indicated that the key demand of the Left and the Congress is a violence-free election in which voters freely exercise their right to franchise.

A persistent complaint of the Left and the Congress is that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government, with the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT) as its junior partner, has done precious little to uphold the rule of law, and they have serious doubts whether elections will be free and fair. This explains why the organisers gave vent to their concern through the theme 'my vote, my right'.

As Left Front convener Narayan Kar told NewsClick, it was a "warm-up" exercise held at short notice and restricted to the state capital. With credibility eroded because of poor performance, BJP activists may resort to violence to manage a second term. "That is our fear," Kar observed and added that their concerns have been conveyed to the state's chief electoral officer.

However, it is a fact that the two sides have a lot to do speedily to convince the electorate that they will be a trustworthy combination capable of delivering on the assurances they will give if given a charge. This has assumed importance for them because the Trinamool Congress (TMC) of Mamata Banerjee, which will put up many candidates in its quest for a foothold outside West Bengal, has already decided to campaign against the likely Left-Congress tie-up citing their miserable show in the 2021 West Bengal Assembly elections.

The burden of TMC's jibe, as indicated to NewsClick by the party's new president Pijush Biswas – ex-Congressman and a former assistant solicitor-general – will be that when voters in West Bengal reject them, how can Tripura voters count on them.

"They cannot be credible partners, given their bitter rivalry in the past."

For the ruling BJP, the sudden change of chief minister and failure to implement much of the assurances given in the 2018 election manifesto are proving awkward for party activists and workers. The manifesto had committed large funds for the long-term economic development of the areas covered under the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC), whose jurisdiction accounts for 20 Assembly seats, but there has been little progress. Work on the ground, even now, remains uncertain as much of the time has been consumed in preparing a detailed report on the components of the package. This is a sore point with IPFT, its spokesperson Amit Debbarma told NewsClick.

But, Debbarma was quick to point out that yet IPFT was sticking with BJP for now.

"We have suffered erosion in strength with many of our workers and some of our MLAs having defected. We had won eight seats out of 10 we had contested in the 2018 elections. But, a reassessment of our options is not unlikely."

BJP, while counting heavily on the capacity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to sway voters' mood, is seriously engaged in enlisting the support of the four-year-old regional outfit Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance, popularly called Tipra Motha.

Headed by former royal scion Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barman, Tipra Motha swept the TTADC polls in April 2021. Since then, the royal scion's clout has significantly increased in Tripura politics. After all, holding over one-third of the House's strength of 60 members means a lot at a time when fragmentation of the political space is becoming conspicuous in Tripura.

Circumstances have made Barman the dark horse as in his quest for support for his concept of Greater Tipraland state, comprising the entire Tripura and areas beyond, he is in a position to dictate terms. Currently, he is restricting himself to asking for "written support' for his concept. Significantly, he is eyeing support from the small percentage of tribal people in predominantly non-tribal areas, which account for 40 or two-thirds of the Assembly constituencies.

The Left wants Tipra Motha as an alliance partner. The Congress wants him; party leaders have already met their ex-colleague. For several years, the royal scion was in Congress. IPFT, while continuing as BJP's ally, is open to teaming up with Tipra Motha in "the larger interest of the tribals."

Tipra Motha-IPTF merger is a foregone conclusion, contend knowledgeable circles. TMC has also approached him, the former royal scion confirmed to NewsClick but added that he wouldn't climb down on his primary demand of written support for Greater Tipraland state.

TMC's interest in partnering with Tipra Motha has been confirmed to this correspondent also by Biswas. Public meetings organised under the banner of Tipra Motha with Barman as the key speaker have witnessed enthusiastic participation, as confirmed by knowledgeable quarters. Still, they doubt if any political outfits interested in a tie-up can dare to give a written assurance on his demand.

In recent times, Barman has been frequenting New Delhi, and political quarters are speculating whether there will be some understanding between BJP and him. It may not necessarily be in regard to Greater Tipraland; for in view of several similar demands, such as Gorkhaland, Koch-Kamtapur, Frontier Nagaland and long pending ones, such as Vidarbha and Harit Pradesh BJP, will not like to see an addition in the list

In this context, political quarters cite the ex-royal scion's oft-repeated suggestion to field 45-50 candidates. BJP may try to win him by offering him a respectable number of seats and making him deputy chief minister. This possibility is being talked about in political circles despite the fact in some of his public meetings, the Tipra Motha chief flayed the BJP-dominated ministry for misgovernance and doing little for the tribal population's economic uplift.

As utter confusion prevails concerning alliance formation, Tripura Pradesh Congress Committee president Birajait Sinha spoke of the possibility of an informal, secret understanding with Tipra Motha.

"This is politics; everything need not always be formal and open. Also, things can happen after the elections too. We are all united in stopping BJP from a second term," Sinha told NewsClick.

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