National : Emerging tribal party, closeness of Left, Cong herald political shifts in Tripura

By Sujit Chakraborty

Agartala, Aug 14 : After the emergence of a new party in Tripura — TIPRA, the electoral politics of the northeastern state is gradually changing since the tribal based party captured the politically important TTAADC last year. The coming closer of the CPI-M led Left Front and the Congress signifies another permutation and combination ahead of the next assembly elections, around six months away.

After several centuries of the rule of 184 kings, on October 15, 1949, the erstwhile princely state of Tripura came under the control of the Indian government after a merger agreement was signed between the regent Maharani, Kanchan Prabha Devi and the Indian Governor General.

From 1949, Tripura got different constitutional institutions till 1972. Tripura along with Manipur and Meghalaya became full-fledged states on January 21, 1972 under the North Eastern Region (Re-Organisation) Act, 1971.

Before 2018 Tripura’s politics was dominated by the Communist Party of India-Marxist led Left Front and the Congress led coalition. But the political situation steadily changed and in 2018 the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led alliance wrested power, thrashing the Left parties after 25 years (1993-2018).

Of the 60 assembly seats in Tripura, 20 reserved for the tribals (ST) and ten reserved for the people belonging to the Scheduled Caste (SC), the CPI-M had an overwhelming domination in these 30 reserved seats for decades.

The CPI-M in the 2018 assembly polls received a severe blow in these reserved seats from the BJP and its junior ally Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT). The CPI-M got only four seats (two ST and two SC) out of the 30 reserved seats while the BJP and the IPFT alliance bagged the remaining seats.

When TIPRA (Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance) headed by Tripura’s former royal scion Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barman scripted history in the northeastern state and captured the TTAADC (Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council) in the April 6, 2021 elections, it became the fourth big political force after the Left, the Congress and the BJP in Tripura.

The TIPRA defeated the CPI-M led Left Front, the BJP and the Congress in the elections to the TTAADC, which in terms of political significance is considered as a mini-legislative assembly after the Tripura Legislative Assembly.

Constituted in 1985 under the sixth schedule of the Constitution, the TTAADC has jurisdiction over two-thirds of Tripura’s 10,491 sq. km. area and is home to over 12,16,000 people, of which around 84 per cent are tribals, making the 30-member autonomous body the second important law making legislature after the 60-member Tripura assembly.

After the merger of the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT), one of the state’s oldest tribal based parties, last year with TIPRA, the latter got a further political boost to take on the other local and national parties.

With the electoral politics and reserved seat based political scenario gradually changing, the possible coalition prospects and related scenarios before the 2023 assembly polls are still unclear as the political pundits foresee varied permutations and combinations emerging during the next six months.

To further consolidate their base among the tribals, the TIPRA led TTAADC adopted a resolution in the council and it was subsequently sent to the Governor, the state government and the Centre to create a “Greater Tipraland” for the tribals, who constitute one third of Tripura’s four million population.

Most major political parties, the BJP, the Left Front and the Congress, however, rejected the demand.

The TIPRA during the past 17 months, had organised various events in Tripura and in national capital Delhi in support of their “Greater Tipraland” demand to woo the tribals before the 2023 assembly polls.

The leaders of the TIPRA while explaining about their “Greater Tipraland” demand said that under the concept they wanted to improve the socio-economic condition of the backward tribals living in the northeastern states of India, neighbouring Bangladesh, Myanmar and adjoining areas.

Though the BJP opposed the “Greater Tipraland” demand, its ally IPFT leaders took part in the two-day sit-in at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi in November last year.

Highlighting “Tipraland” (an exclusive territory for the indigenous tribals), the IPFT in the 2018 assembly polls secured eight of the 20 tribal reserved seats, which for decades were the strongholds of the CPI-M.

The “Greater Tipraland” demand was raised by TIPRA as they found that such ethnic or sentimental issues facilitated the IPFT to get massive support from the indigenous tribals in the 2018 assembly elections.

The other recent political developments — setting up a political base in Tripura by the Trinamool Congress and the gradual close proximity between the Congress and the Left parties indicate another churning ahead of the 2023 assembly elections.

According to the political pundits, if there is no pre-poll alliance between the opposition parties, the division of vote share would help the BJP to retain power.

Political commentator Satyabrata Chakraborti said that it was seen in the 2018 assembly polls that the Left parties’, specially the CPI-M, massive political base erosion among the tribal, scheduled caste and other backward communities led to poor performance and humiliating defeat in the elections.

“If the Left parties are keen to regain their political base, they must change their mindset and political strategies. They must bring more young, women, tribal and OBC leaders to lead the party. However, no such serious efforts are seen in the Left camp,” Chakraborti told IANS.

Another political analyst Sanjib Deb said that the third spectrum TIPRA which emerged in the state politics is now dominating the tribal vote bank, overwhelmingly thrashing the other political parties specially the Left parties, who have had strongholds among the tribals since 1945.

“Until recent years, the politics of Tripura was dominated by the Left and non-Left parties. Now the new entrant TIPRA is taking the vote share, mostly tribal votes, of the three national parties — BJP, CPI-M and the Congress,” Deb told IANS.

In the recent by-elections in Surma (reserved for the scheduled caste communities) assembly constituency seat, independent candidate Baburam Satnami, backed by TIPRA, secured the second position pushing the CPI-M into third position.

The CPI-M headed Left Front governed Tripura for 35 years (1978 to 1988 and 1993 to 2018) before the Left parties suffered a humiliating defeat by the BJP in 2018.

In another political development, the IPFT due to its organisational deficiencies not only lost its political base in its traditional tribal dominated areas, internal feuds also weakened the party.

Recently, former Forest and Tribal Welfare Minister Mevar Kumar Jamatia kept a distance from the IPFT and his wife Gita Debbarma joined the TIPRA, fuelling speculation that he (Jamatia) may also join the TIPRA party.

Jamatia was dropped from the council of ministers headed by Chief Minister Manik Saha in May, and Prem Kumar Reang represented the ministry as the IPFT nominee.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at sujit.c@ians.in)

–IANS

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