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Emergence of tribal party TIPRA muddies Tripura's political waters

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By Sujit Chakraborty
Agartala, July 3 (Ajit Weekly News) With the emergence of a new party in Tripura — TIPRA, the political spectrum of the northeastern state is gradually changing since the tribal based party captured the politically important Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) in the April 6 elections last year.

After the erstwhile princely state of Tripura merged with the Indian Union in October 1949, till 2013 Tripura’s politics were 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).

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 in the April 6, 2021 elections, it became the fourth big political force after the Left, Congress and the BJP in Tripura.

The TIPRA defeated the CPI-M led Left Front, the BJP and the Congress.

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 mini-assembly after the 60-member Tripura assembly.

With 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 further political strength to take on the other local and national parties.

As the political scenario has been changing, the possible electoral politics, coalition prospects and related scenarios before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls are still unclear as the political pundits foresee varied permutations and combinations emerging in the coming years.

After the capture of the TTAADC by the TIPRA, a unanimous resolution was passed 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.

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

The TIPRA during the past one year, had organised various events in Tripura and in national capital Delhi in support of their “Greater Tipraland” demand.

The TIPRA leaders 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.

The leaders of the ruling BJP’s junior ally Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) took part in the two-day sit-in at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi in November last year.

Focusing on the “Tipraland” issue the IPFT in the 2018 assembly polls secured eight of the 20 tribal reserve seats, which over the decades were the strongholds of the CPI-M.

The demand for a “Greater Tipraland” was raised after the IPFT got massive support from the indigenous tribals ahead of the 2018 assembly elections.

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 Ajit Weekly News.

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.

Political commentator and writer Sekhar Datta said that it was seen in the 2018 assembly polls, when the Left parties were defeated by the BJP, that their (Left parties dominated by the CPI-M) massive political base erosion among the tribal, scheduled caste and other backward communities led to poor performance in the elections.

“If the Left parties want 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,” Datta told Ajit Weekly News.

The Left Front governed Tripura for 35 years (1978 to 1988 and 1993 to 2018) when 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 feud also weakened the party.

Recently, due to the internal row, 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) also may 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 [email protected])

–Ajit Weekly News
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