New Delhi: The Congress and the Left Front are exploring the option of forming a grand alliance of “democratic, secular forces” — including the influential Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA Motha) — in the Tripura election due next February, ThePrint has learnt.
Former Tripura chief minister and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Manik Sarkar called the talks of an alliance “premature”. But senior functionaries of the party’s state unit confirmed that the party is in talks with both Congress and the Motha — a party that has been rapidly gaining ground in the tribal areas of the state — for a possible alliance, although they added that “it (the talks) is yet to mature”.
For decades, politics in the northeastern state had revolved around the Congress and the Left Front. That changed in 2018, when the BJP won its very first assembly election in the state, dislodging the Left from power after 25 years.
However, much has changed in the state since then. This includes the rise of the Motha, a party helmed by former Congress leader and scion of the erstwhile Tripura royal family, Pradyot Kishore Manikya Debbarma, and former minister Sudeep Roy Barman’s exit from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
When he quit the BJP in February, Barman vowed to ensure that the party does not win a single seat in the next assembly elections. He has since joined the Congress, a party to which he belonged before switching briefly to the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in 2016.
Speaking to ThePrint, Barman, who now accuses the TMC of being funded by the BJP, asserted that it was time that the “real players in the state” — the Congress, the Left, and the Motha — come together to oppose the BJP.
“The mood of the people of Tripura now is that all democratic secular political parties that have some base in the state should come together to defeat the BJP. That is the clarion call of the Congress.”
Barman also dismissed the TMC as having “no presence in Tripura”.
“(It’s) trying to do what it has done in states like Gujarat Goa and Manipur — basically, they want to cut 100-200 votes here and there and pave the way for the BJP. They have no presence and are guided, aided, abetted, and funded by the BJP,” he said. “The real players are Congress, Left, and Motha, and they are the ones that need to come together. We are talking to them regularly and now it is for them to respond to our clarion call.”
ThePrint reached TIPRA Motha chairman Debbarma over the phone and WhatsApp for his response on the Congress’s alliance offer. This article will be updated if and when a response is received.
Also Read: Why Modi wants BJP focus on tribals in poll-bound Tripura — ally’s troubles, Tipra Motha’s clout
‘Alliance talks premature’
From 1993 till 2018 — when the BJP, whose vote share in the 2013 assembly election was a mere 1.5 per cent, formed the government — Tripura had been ruled by a Left Front government.
While he echoed Barman’s charges of political violence and stressed the need to ensure free and fair elections, former Tripura CM and CPI(M) leader Manik Sarkar said alliance talks at this stage may be “a little speculative and a lot of guesswork”.
“It is a good thing that everybody wants to defeat the BJP, but one needs to understand that all political parties have their own ideology, their own election strategy,” he told ThePrint. “It is for them to think about alliances but at this stage, it may be a little too premature to make any public assertion about an alliance.”
He said that the Left Front had decided to issue an appeal to all political parties claiming to be democratic and secular and the Tripura electorate on the need to protest the current situation in the state.
“I’m in Delhi but I know that an appeal is going to be issued — may have already been issued in Tripura — on the need to resist the status quo. The way violence has been unleashed on political parties, the barbarism on mothers and sisters with a section of the police complicit, this has to change,” he said, adding that in view of the impending elections, “there is a need to establish a non-political legal order in the state”.
“We are also appealing to the Election Commission to ensure free and fair elections,” Sarkar said.
CPI (M)’s state secretary Jitendra Chaudhury confirmed that an appeal had been issued, but qualified it by saying it was “simply an appeal to the people of Tripura to make them conscious of the atmosphere in the state”.
“We will see how the response is, and then decide on the next course of action,” he told ThePrint.
BJP had fought the 2018 elections in alliance with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT,) an outfit that has since seen a large-scale exodus to the Motha and thus a significant waning of its influence in the tribal areas of the state.
Last year, a Motha-led alliance swept the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) polls that covered 70 per cent of Tripura’s geographical spread. TTAADC governs areas populated by 19 tribal communities. These areas, because of their predominantly tribal population, are protected by several constitutional safeguards.
‘None of the 299 promises kept’
Barman lashed out at the BJP for “unleashing a reign of terror and political violence” in the state and failing to fulfil its promises to the people of the state.
“Political violence is at its peak in Tripura. Opposition political parties cannot even hold political programmes in the state. Properties, vehicles (and) houses of their supporters are set on fire (and) political parties’ offices are vandalised. I have been hospitalised twice after being attacked,” he told ThePrint.
The BJP, he said, “has miserably failed to live up to the expectations of the people”.
“None of the 299 promises made in the election manifesto of 2018 have been met. All works have been awarded to a few chosen contractors from outside the state,” he said, adding that the BJP will witness “massive desertions” before the elections early next year.
“Reducing the elections to a complete farce is the only hope left to them.”
Responding to Barman’s charges against her party, TMC Rajya Sabha MP Sushmita Dev said that going by her experience in Goa, it was the Congress that “bolsters the BJP” after winning an election.
“That to my mind is much more dangerous than a party that is democratically asking for votes. As for Sudeep Barman, he himself has come from the BJP and may well go back. It’s a very real apprehension in the public mind,” she said.
Speaking to ThePrint off the record, another TMC leader said the Congress was in no position to criticise other parties.
“Congress complained about other parties fighting the polls in Goa. What happened? Congress won 11 out of 60 seats in Goa in March 2022 (but) eight Congress MLAs jumped to BJP a few months ago. Now they are 3 out of 60. What happens (to the Congress) if people say they are funded by BJP?“ the leader asked.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)
Also Read: How Tripura People’s Front merger with BJP could shape state’s tribal politics going forward