New Delhi: Having talked to both parties for “over a year now”, the Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (or TIPRA Motha), helmed by former Congress leader and royal scion Pradyot Bikram Manikya Debbarma, is keeping the Left Front and the Congress guessing about a possible alliance ahead of this year’s Tripura assembly elections, ThePrint has learnt.
Sources told ThePrint that the CPI(M) and Congress have reached a preliminary understanding about an alliance to fight the Bharatiya Janata Party in Tripura, but a formal announcement may come only a little closer to the elections. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury had a meeting with All India Congress Committee (AICC), Tripura, in-charge Ajoy Kumar Sunday and the two sides are said to be close to an alliance, but which way the influential TIPRA Motha will swing remained a mystery.
“I am very clear I will not compromise on the core demand of Tipraland. Why earlier movements, such as Gorkhaland (a reference to the long-standing demand for a separate state for the Nepali-speaking people of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and other hilly districts of West Bengal), did not work is because their leaders compromised either for short-term political gains or personal gains. I will go with whichever political party — Left Congress or BJP — gives me a commitment on Tipraland in writing that I can take to my supporters. Everybody is showing me how to get power, not how to get rights for my people. I am answerable to my people,” Debbarma told ThePrint Monday.
Tipraland is a separate state that Motha and some other organisations have been demanding for the indigenous people of Tripura.
“An alliance between the Congress and the Left is under discussion. We have also been talking to the TIPRA Motha, but they are not making any clear commitments as yet,” CPI(M) state secretary Jitendra Chaudhury told ThePrint.
He added: “I cannot make any announcements as yet, but what is clear is that in every booth in the state there will be a people’s alliance against the BJP. At the political level also there will be an alliance and it will be a three-party alliance. But we are not making any announcements as yet. We will make one once the election dates are announced.”
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Importance of TIPRA Motha
Of the 60 seats in the Tripura assembly, in a state with just 28 lakh voters, TIPRA Motha has a strong base in about 20 tribal-dominated seats. In 2021, 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.
However, Debbarma is proving to be a tough nut to crack for the two parties who have been the main political players in Tripura for decades before the BJP’s surprise win in the 2018 Assembly elections.
“We have been talking to him for over a year now. But there is no clarity on which way he will go. The prolonged suspense has begun to cause speculation that he may be playing into BJP’s hands. The Left is deeply distrustful of him,” said a Congress leader speaking to ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
Bengalis and tribals form the bulk of voters in the state. The Left Front’s 25-year rule in the state, between 1993 and 2018, was powered by, among other things, a strong and committed tribal votebank. In the 2018 elections, however, the BJP and its ally, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), had swept those areas, but much of the IPFT’s heft is now a thing of the past with many senior leaders joining the Motha.
According to Debbarma, the creation of a Bengali vs tribal narrative in Tripura has been made for political reasons, when there is nothing of that on the ground. It is votebank politics, he claimed, which did not allow anybody to grow in the state.
Debbarma also rubbished contentions made some national parties that Tipraland is an impossible claim as many parts of the areas in question are in other states or even in Bangladesh. “That is completely incorrect. There are 36 villages outside the ADC (autonomous district council) areas, but they are very much inside Tripura. We are not like some others who think of Akhand Bharat encompassing India Pakistan and Bangladesh,” he said, taking a dig at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s purported vision.
Describing himself as a “loyal Congressman” who was pushed out because he wanted to oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act, Debbarma claimed, “The man who did that to me, one is now in Trinamool Congress (referring to Luizinho Faleiro). I am not a politician, but an activist. Congress should realise that the person they pushed out was an asset to the party. Now my commitment is only in getting the rights for my people who have been historically wronged.”
Speaking of his former party and the Left Front, he alleged these parties “have ensured people in the hills remain poor. On the other hand I am not a votary of BJP’s ‘one culture one language’ motto either, because India is a land of diversity. We are Hindus, but we do not need to insult Islam or Christianity to show how good Hindus we are. I would rather sit in the opposition than dance with the devil”.
Left, Motha battle for tribal votebank
Meanwhile, whether Debbarma chooses to go with BJP, a party he has often targeted for the “neglect” of the tribal areas, or chooses to strike a middle ground and share seats with a Left-Congress alliance, is right now the most important political question in Tripura.
“There are many reasons for the Left’s distrust of Motha. It is not just that both are eyeing the same tribal votebank. Leave alone an alliance commitment, Pradyot was not even been willing to sign the joint statement we had issued (last month), appealing to all democratic secular forces in the state to unite against the BJP,” said a second senior Congress leader.
The leader added: “The Left’s hold on the tribal areas (of Tripura) remains very strong, so it is not immediately obvious that TIPRA not going with the alliance will work in BJP’s favour. The mood in the state is against the BJP whether Pradyot chooses to cash in on that or play the BJP’s tune is his call.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
Also read: Why Modi wants BJP focus on tribals in poll-bound Tripura — ally’s troubles, Tipra Motha’s clout