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Assembly Election Heat Rises in Tripura

Party defections and weighing of possible alliances underway as all stakeholders gear up for polls in early 2023.
 Assembly Election Heat Rises in Tripura

People wait in a queue at a polling station to cast their votes for Assembly by-elections, during in Agartala. Image Courtesy:PTI

Kolkata: Politics in Tripura in the North-East, where Assembly elections are due in about 10 weeks from now, is heating up.

Recently, it was the turn of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) to be in the limelight by organising defections from Congress. Six Congress leaders, including a former working president Pijush Kanti Biswas, changed their jerseys. TMC has already made it known that Biswas, a former assistant solicitor-general and former president of the Tripura High Court Bar Council, will be heading the party’s state unit. Biswas will succeed Subal Bhowmik, who was sacked after the party’s debacle in the Assembly bye-elections in June last.

In recent months, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), an ally of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which came to power in 2018, has also been disintegrating, apparently to the benefit of the Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (Tipra Motha), headed by royal scion Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barman, a part of whose Ujjayanta Palace serves as the outfit’s headquarters. Four tribal MLAs of IPFT and BJP switched to Tipra Motha.

Inquiries by NewsClick from political quarters revealed that the royal scion, an ex-Congressman, is attracting tribal youths as he sells his idea of a ‘Greater Tipraland’ comprising tribal areas of Tripura and beyond, even Bangladesh, at large meetings, in which he also fiercely attacking BJP for its divisive politics.

Deb Barman’s tactics seem to be to give the impression that he would not join hands with BJP which, it is widely believed, will want Tipra Motha as an ally as a replacement for IPFT for the forthcoming Assembly polls due in the third week of February 2023.

For BJP, it will be a test for chief minister Manik Saha, who replaced the ‘dynamic’ but over-assertive Biplab Deb in what was seen as a sort of “mid-course correction” by the BJP central leadership. Saha’s job is cut out – to get his party a second term.

Informed sources told NewsClick that anti-BJP sentiments have surfaced in the small NE state. The working class is unhappy. In the industrial area of R K Nagar, some 50% of the 64 units have closed down. The lone public sector, Tripura Jute Mill, is gasping for breath with a steady decline in the number of workers. The state government has done precious little to bring it back into production.

The number of functional brick kilns has also declined by 100 from 376 units when the going was good in the previous Left Front regime, according to Centre of Indian Trade Union’s Tripura secretary Sankar Datta. This is having a telling impact on construction activity, shrinkage of which has meant loss of working days.

The availability of jobs under the Centre’s 100-day rural job scheme, MGNREGA, too, has come down to about 25 days from the average of 90 days during the Left Front regime. Opportunities have also shrunk under the Tripura Urban Employment Programme launched by the Left Front, Datta added.

But, BJP’s state president Rajiv Bhattacharjee, does not accept the charge of economic slide in his party’s maiden innings in power. Farmers are getting minimum support price, tea and rubber plantations are under government’s watch for normalcy in operations, the social welfare pension amount has been raised to Rs 2,000 from Rs 700 by the current regime and 11 essential items are being supplied under public distribution system, he says.

As for the political fight, Bhattacharjee told NewsClick: “We will come back, there is no leadership deficiency just because there has been a change of Chief Minister. The royal scion is using Tipra Motha as a platform to make the election battle sentimental and emotional. That won’t work. If tribal votes have shifted to Tipra Motha, it is because of the impractical ways of the CPI-M-led Left Front, which ruled the state for 25 years.”

Asked if BJP would try to get the royal scion’s regional party as an ally, he claimed his party was capable of going it alone. Work on the election manifesto has begun, he added.

For the Communist Party of India-led Left Front, “the challenge is to regain power and the period of 75 days between now and voting date is crucial for us”, said CPI-M state secretary Jitendra Chowdhury.

He said it was true that Tipra Motha was attracting youths, but “it also true that seniors among tribals are not enamoured of the regional outfit. Our outreach is being extended to areas which hitherto did not receive due attention. The outreach is also being intensified to ensure better performance in the non-tribal/Scheduled Caste seats and convince tribals why the Left is a better option for them than a platform that lacks political clarity and direction for inclusive development of Tripura,” he told NewsClick.

Chowdhury acknowledged that although an increasing number of people were disenchanted with BJP rule, yet many of them were sticking with that party out of fear as BJP activists warn them that the party would take a serious view of their loyalty change. “We are trying to convince them why they should overcome fear psychosis” Some people have joined our party recently”, the CPI-M leader said.

As per Chowdhury’s assessment, TMC won’t be a factor in the elections because “Mamata’s party always banks on defectors and it is already at that game. Finding defectors for all of the 60 seats is itself a challenge. TMC has no base,” he said.

CPI-M’s kisan wing chief Pabitra Kar is optimistic of the Left Front being able to tackle its weaknesses and putting up a strong fight
under the stewardship of former Chief Minister Manik Sarkar. “We have succeeded to a great extent in activating our frontal organisations and are now devising strategies to improve our support base among farmers and wage earners who have suffered under the BJP regime, Kar told NewsClick.

State Communist Party of India (CPI) secretary Judhisthir Das conceded Deb Barman’s hold in the areas under the control of Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous district Council (TTAADC), which comprises 20 of the state’s 60 Assembly constituencies. Tipra Motha’s ranks have increased with sections of IPFT youths joining it.

“BJP’s strong-arm tactics to retain its support base is a matter of concern for us as that is impeding our efforts to bring voters back to our side”, Das told NewsClick. An understanding among the Left Front, Congress and Tipra Motha may be possible, he added.

Tripura Congress chief Birajit Sinha said: “We are firm we will prevent BJP from coming back to power. Asked if that means Congress is sure of an understanding among anti-BJP forces, Sinha told NewsClick: “This is not the time to tell the press about what we are informally doing. But we will not allow BJP to rule Tripura again”.

[Interestingly, a meeting of anti-BJP parties committed to democracy and restoration of democratic functioning of constitutionally-created institutions was held in Agartala on December 7 at the initiative of CPI-ML general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya. This was the first formal attempt to sew up an anti-BJP platform].

The writer is a Kolkata-based freelance journalist.

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