Tripura Hills

Agartala: State elections in Tripura are only a year away, and political parties are now working overtime to cover as many regions and build as many alliances as possible. With this in mind, a recent move, which saw Tripura People’s Front (TPF) Supremo Patal Kanya Jamatia joining the BJP, is a strong indication that the BJP is now seriously after the Hills.

The Tripura Indigenous Progress Regional Alliance (TIPRA), led by royal scion Pradyot Kishore Debbarman for the assembly polls scheduled for next year, was also conveyed. With that out of the picture, the national party is looking elsewhere.

But of course, things are far from smooth for Patal Kanya Jamatia. Days after joining the BJP, reports of face-offs started to come from different parts of the state. In South Tripura’s Kalshi, the protests took a violent turn leaving several people injured, including two cops. Later, the local Baikhora police station was also attacked and to defuse the tension, a huge police deployment was pressed into action.

It would be safe to say that Tripura’s political path has been changed TIPRA came forward with its core demand of “Greater Tipraland,” Mind you, it doesn’t always mean the same thing. Sometimes, it is described as a universal development council for indigenous tribes of Tripura. On other days, it becomes a geographical entity.

Confusion persists over the issue, and rival political parties also have divided observations. But with the demand for Greater Tipraland, TIPRA has garnered support in the Hills. Leaders cutting across all political parties secretly admit that the party has the potential to become a gamechanger in 2023 polls. But as is often the case, your biggest weapon can also be your biggest weakness. The demand for Greater Tipraland also means TIPRA will be restricted to the Hills.

And the BJP knows this too well.

The BJP is not as strong in the Hills as it is in the Agartala region, but it would be a stretch to say that the saffron party does not have a presence in the Hills. In last year’s TTAADC elections, BJP fought 11 seats alone and won nine.

In comparison, BJP’s tribal ally, the IPFT, fought 17 seats but drew a blank, making way for TIPRA to win 18 out of 28 total seats in the tribal council areas.

No wonder the BJP National General Secretary D Purandeswari denied that BJP failed to wrest power in the TTAADC, and blamed its ally for the drubbing.

“A report on the failure of TTAADC elections will be placed before the party high command, and then the high command will decide. The BJP did its part, but our allies, unfortunately, could not win a seat,” the senior BJP leader said during her three-day state visit that ended on March 23.

Moreover, the BJP is consistently working in the ground to keep its political base intact. Despite its loss in the TTAADC, it has an MP from ST-reserved East Tripura constituency, it has ten MLAs from tribal-dominated constituencies. The ten elected representatives in the TTAADC only strengthened the party’s presence.

On the other hand, soon after TPF supremo, Patal Kanya Jamatia was inducted into the BJP, it got an extra boost of workers in the Hills. Jamatia is among few leaders who have a strong cadre base even in the remotest corners of the state.

Now, it is almost clear that bringing the whole indigenous vote bank together will be a herculean task for Pradyot to perform in the next elections.

When asked about TIPRA’s rise, BJP Janajati Mocrha President and MP from East Tripura constituency Rebati Tripura said, “You can’t judge big and small depending on a rally. Today, we have ten MLAs, ten MDCs and a Member of Parliament from tribal areas. What does it say? It says that the BJP is the biggest party in Tripura. A gathering of 20,000-30,000 people does not make a party big. The Janajati people are with BJP. There is still a year to go, so we will see what happens.”

Tripura also indicated that everyone has to join the BJP for survival. “I am telling you one thing; everyone has to come to the BJP. Some people may come direct; some may take an indirect route. I welcome all,” he added.

On the other hand, TIPRA, now ruling the tribal council areas has toughened its stand against the BJP. Pradyot Kishore Debbarman had declared that his party would fight alone in 30 to 35 seats.

His 35 seat calculation comes straight out of the state’s scattered demographic composition. Senior journalist and political analyst Sekhar Datta explained, “The 20 tribal reserved seats always played a crucial role in deciding the fate of political parties in every election. In all the 20 seats tribal votes are dominant. In these areas, TIPRA will certainly become a factor. But, in 15 seats, the regional party is targeting those where the tribal population is sizable. In these seats, consolidation of tribal votes may not script victory or defeat for any party. But it acts as a factor. In these seats, TIPRA may not win but will substantially affect the vote share of other political parties be it BJP, CPIM or the Congress.”

Datta also attributed the rise of TIPRA to the BJP’s lackadaisical attitude towards strengthening its base in the Hills. “The Left parties, explicitly, CPIM, left no stones unturned to safeguard its support base in the tribal areas. It ruled the state for decades because the Hills were considered to be the Left citadel and tribal people voted for the CPIM en masse. In 2018, CPIM failed and it was dislodged from power. It is a good sign for the BJP that it has identified its weaknesses and started working to fix them as soon as possible. Patal Kanya Jamatia’s joining will, undoubtedly, affect TIPRA’s expansion and boost the morale of BJP workers in the Hills,” Datta pointed out.

TIPRA’s strategy is visible on the ground. The party has been wholeheartedly working and drew record crowds during the recent political in Agartala.

Speaking on this, TIPRA chief Pradyot Kishore Debbarman said, “TIPRA is fighting for people’s rights. We want a constitutional solution and our fight for that will continue no matter what comes our way.”

On Patal Kanya Jamatia joining the BJP, he said, “She has joined the BJP and now the BJP will certainly endorse her stance of NRC exercise in Tripura. The BJP should come out clean with its official stance regarding Patal Kanya Jamatia. And, she should also publicly reveal what is her stand on the NRC and CAA.”

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