He said the move was “expected and delayed.” However, he also said “personal reasons” could have been responsible too for Deb’s ouster, apart from his “overall misgovernance” of the State. Debbarman alleged that the BJP was in a “sticky wicket” throughout the State when it came to ST population this time.
Tripura is scheduled to go to the polls in early 2023.
Tripura’s tribal politics has been undergoing a churn over the last two years. Twenty of the 60 assembly seats in the State are reserved for indigenous communities to the region, but in 15 other seats, the ST populations can swing electoral results. Originally held by the CPI (M), in the 2018 elections a majority of these seats were wrested by the BJP and its alliance partner, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), paving the way for the BJP’s historic win in the State.
“Unlike Gujarat or Uttarakhand, the BJP has no organizational base in Tripura which is why parties like mine with committed people will continue to grow. The BJP only has people who left the Congress lock, stock and barrel. And the appointment of Manik Saha who is hardly known here is not going to make things easier for the BJP, particularly with the Tribal population, “Debbarman added.
Last year, Tipra Motha, which seeks to establish a “Greater Tipraland,” essentially a separate state consisting of council areas and bodies to ensure the rights of tribal communities living outside council areas, swept the autonomous district council elections, posing a threat to the BJP’s hold over ST votes. In the seventies, when the demand for a separate ethnic homeland had led to an armed conflict in the region, the Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council Act was brought in to govern areas with tribal populations. decentralized governance in ST-dominated areas of four States, including Tripura, Assam, Mizoram and Meghalaya, and covering about two-thirds of Tripura’s territory. Tripura politics has traditionally been divided between the tribal community and the state’s non-tribal population. run-up to the 2018 elections and even later, the BJP has clarified that it did not back a separate tribal state, also providing a reassurance to the majority B engali vote in the state.
“They (BJP) offered me a package and they wanted me in, but I won’t go. Package and development is what we keep hearing but we want real solutions. I want constitutional validity to my demands, which is just to see my Tirasa (tribal) brothers and sisters leading a dignified life with constitutional protection of their rights, not just empty promises. We are expanding, and getting a good response, and we won’t stop till we get what we want. The BJP on the other hand has no leadership among the ST community and it is not able to get credible faces to join them. It does not understand the tribal sentiment in the State that is different from the tribal sentiment elsewhere. The community here comprises various tribes but we vote as a bloc which is how the communists benefitted. This will hit them (BJP) badly. And I think, the bad leadership is to blame for that, “Debbarman added.
The BJP’s recent decision to absorb Tripura People’s Front, an indigenous political group, is also being seen as a move to counter TIpra Motha’s growing influence. The party has claimed that it is confident of winning 50-plus seats alone in the 2023 assembly. Incidentally, the BJP’s ally IPFT on a verge of a split now had campaigned aggressively for the separate state of Tipraland in 2018 and won eight seats.
Debbarman who had earlier called on the IPFT to join hands with TIPRA Motha and collectively raise the statehood demand said several members of BJP’s ally have joined him in the last few days. Many ST outfits of Tripura have been demanding a separate state for the indigenous population, claiming it is a question of the survival of the indigenous community, in the face of migration of thousands of Bengalis from Bangladesh and erstwhile East Pakistan settling in the State.
“We are not asking anyone to leave, but we want our rights, constitutional rights, not just promises,” Debbarman said.