In the light of the BJP-IPFT alliance announced on Friday for the Tripura Assembly elections to be held on 18 February, the INPT (Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura) has decided to unite all other indigenous parties and will try to form a grand alliance with Congress to counter the BJP’s move and overthrow the CPM government, said party vice-president Amiya Debbarma. “Joining hands with IPFT (Indigenous Peoples’ Front of Twipra) will not benefit the BJP,” he said.
The NC Debbarma-led faction of the IPFT will contest on 10 of the 20 Assembly seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes (ST) in the state, according to UNI. With two-third of the state area inhabited by indigenous people, who constitute one-third of the state’s population, influencing the tribal vote bank has been a major concern for all parties.
The Election Commission of India (EC) on Thursday announced the polling dates for Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland and said the votes will be counted on 3 March. Meghalaya and Nagaland will both go to poll on 27 February, the EC said.
The INPT was formed in 2002 as a merger of IPFT and Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti (TUJS). However, before the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, some INPT members revived the IPFT under the leadership of NC Debbarma, with their main agenda being the formation of separate ‘Twipraland’. The INPT enjoys a larger support base among the tribal and non-tribal people of Tripura owing to its unhindered existence and dissociation from the demand for a separate state. In the 2013 Assembly election, INPT contested on 12 seats and secured 7.6 percent vote share without winning a single seat. That said, IPFT secured only 0.5 percent of votes in the same election.
“With IPFT, BJP is being cornered into the same failed experiment that was the talks with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) during the Gorkhaland agitation. They have not been clear about whether they are for or against IPFT’s demand of a separate state. While the BJP president doesn’t support it, the Centre says something different. And to align with INPT to fight the elections, BJP will have to give up 15 out of 20 tribal seats, again something we are not sure they are willing to do,” said the sole heir of the Manikya royal family, Pradyot Kishore Deb Burman, who has also been the Tripura Congress’ working president since 2015.
Another factor that is expected to influence the tribal population in Tripura is the respect that major parties in fray show towards the erstwhile monarchs. The saffron party has ensured to pay obeisance to the erstwhile monarchy of the hill state during its campaign in order to reap benefits of identifying with the reverence that tribals have for their kings.
BJP’s courting of Tripura royalty has impelled the ruling CPM as well to change its attitude towards the matters concerned with monarchs. “For the first time in their party’s history, they [CPM] have started renovating statues of kings across the state,” said Debbarma of INPT, adding that the CPM had been “critical” of the kings in the past.
But, the fact that Deb Burman has been made convenor of the Congress’ election committee complicates the math around tribal voters. Deb Burman, who is also heading a eight-member social media team of Congress, is for the first time at the helm of elections in the state. A staunch Congressman (his parents, former MPs both, have had a long association with the party), he confidently says the party will contest on all 60 seats.
As far as alliances go, Tripura is a tricky playground. The BJP, which is keen to spread its reach beyond the four northeastern states, has entered into an alliance with IPFT, but it may find tough to negotiate their demands of a separate state. Their alliance, however, may clear the ambiguity around other coalition in the making.
But there is definitely one player in Tripura that the BJP is wooing in a not-so-subtle manner. The Royals. Or at least the idea of royalty, which it expects will go down well with the tribal population. The saffron party in its effort to honour Tripura’s revered former king Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya has submitted proposals to the Centre to confer him with Bharat Ratna posthumously, name a road after him in the national capital, rename the Agartala airport as ‘Maharaja Bir Bikram Airport’ and erect a statue of the Maharaja at the royal family’s holiday palace in Agartala.
While the BJP is making all efforts to accommodate to the north eastern state, such as dressing up Bharat Mata in the traditional tribal attire and giving up on its cow politics, the strong support enjoyed by the CPM across the state makes matters difficult for them. That the CPM has been instrumental in mobilising the non-tribal settlers for the movements for indigenous peoples’ rights has been considered Marxists’ ‘greatest success’ in the state.
Pradip Chakraborty is a Agartala-based writer and Suneet Shukla is a Bengaluru-based writer. Both are members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters. With inputs from Ayswarya Murthy, a Bengaluru-based journalist and a member of 101reporters.com
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Updated Date: Jan 22, 2018 18:16:51 IST