Kolkata: Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and Pradyot Kishore Debbarma’s Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA) are actively negotiating an alliance in Tripura, where assembly elections are due in 2023, The Print has learnt.
Both parties are looking to fill the vacuum created by a depleting Left-Congress and growing anti-incumbency in the BJP-ruled state.
Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and the national general secretary of the Trinamool, Abhishek Banerjee, was in Tripura last week, while Debbarma, a royal scion, had met the West Bengal chief minister in Kolkata in early July to discuss the emerging political equation in his state.
Talking exclusively to The Print, Debbarma, also known as Pradyot Manikya, said he would go to any lengths to get ‘Constitutional rights’ for tribal communities in his state.
Debbarma, who identifies as an ‘indigenous Tripuri’, added that this would mean something more than “just the autonomous council”.
“I want a written assurance of Constitutional guarantees for my tribal community people. Any political party that agrees and commits to give me the written agreement will get my support,” he said. “I have met Mamata Banerjee and Abhishek in Kolkata and discussed these at length.”
The TIPRA chief said Mamata understood the issues he has been raising.
“I respect Mamata didi a lot as she broke away from the Congress, like I did, and single-handedly ousted the Left,” he said. “She was in Parliament with my mother and then my father. I believe that she has a strong case this time in Tripura. Didi has understood the issue I presented. I want her to raise this in Parliament too.”
Hinting at a probable alliance with the Trinamool Congress, another senior member of TIPRA, said, “If we come together, we may win 58 of the 60 seats. There is serious resentment against the BJP on the ground. They will be finished.”
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Politics in Tripura
The Trinamool Congress, emboldened by its resounding victory in the West Bengal assembly elections this year, has intensified its political activity in neighbouring Tripura.
The TMC has had a presence in Tripura since its inception in 1998. The party, however, did not occupy any significant political space, barring an instance in 2016, when six Congress MLAs defected to the party.
The MLAs later shifted allegiance to the BJP in 2017.
In the 2018 assembly elections, Trinamool Congress contested in 24 of 60 seats, won none and got a mere 0.3 per cent vote share.
The BJP, which won the election with 36 seats and 43.59 per cent vote share, formed the government, while the CPI(M), which had ruled the state for around 25 years, got 16 seats and around 42 per cent vote share. The Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (IPFT), which has now allied with the BJP, won eight seats.
The BJP, however, has been losing ground.
Apart from the 60 assembly constituencies, Tripura has an autonomous district council that governs the tribal-dominated areas. The Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council was formed in 1982.
In April this year, the ruling party lost the autonomous district council elections to TIPRA, which won 18 of the 28 seats in the council. The BJP won nine.
Debbarma, the former Tripura Congress president, had only launched TIPRA in 2019.
A top Trinamool leader, who is in Abhishek Banerjee’s core team in Tripura, said, “We have not ventured out of Bengal without our groundwork. Our agencies did a lot of research in Tripura and found acute anti-incumbency among the tribal population, who constitute at least 31 per cent of Tripura’s population. We are in talks with TIPRA; if we form an alliance, we believe the BJP will be finished in the state in the 2023 elections.”
Talking to The Print, Maloy Ghatak, a senior West Bengal minister and the pointsman supervising the TMC’s political activity in Tripura also said tribals are key to the state.
“Look at the statistics first. Tripura has around 30 to 31 per cent tribal population and around 7 to 8 per cent minority population. Of 60 seats, tribals dominate at least 20, while minorities are a deciding factor in at least five,” he said.
“Apart from this, among the locals, we have sensed resentment against the BJP’s government under Biplab Deb. There is a desire for jobs and development. We are highlighting Didi’s social security schemes. In addition, we have support from the local indigenous parties. At least half a dozen Congress leaders including an ex-minister and an ex-MLA have already joined us.”
Ghatak was in Tripura with Abhishek Banerjee last week. He will be travelling to Tripura again on 10 August as Abhishek is scheduled to reach Agartala on 12 August.
“There will be continuous political programmes. we will not retreat this time,” said Ghatak.
‘TMC just daydreaming’
The ruling BJP and the CPI(M) have both dismissed the TMC’s prospects in the state.
“People of Tripura have seen the extent of political violence in Bengal and the appeasement politics. There has been no employment creation,” state BJP general secretary Tinku Roy said.
“Mamata Banerjee is now daydreaming about occupying national space for which she needs to shed her regional party tag. Tripura seems to be easier as it is nearer to her than other states, but she will get a rude shock here,” Roy added.
“The Trinamool Congress is not new to Tripura politics,” he said. “They’ve been here for decades but could not make any mark. All their leaders joined the BJP in 2017.”
About BJP’s defeat in the recent autonomous council elections, Roy said, “One should analyse the results with numbers. We contested in 11 seats, of which we won in nine. We have an 85 per cent strike rate. Our alliance partner (IPFT) lost all seats and that is why we could not win.”
Gautam Das, the CPI(M)’s state general secretary, said the TMC was underestimating his party.
“The BJP and the Trinamool are two sides of the same coin. People of Tripura have faith in the Left parties and that is why we got around 42 per cent vote share (2018 assembly elections),” he said. “We only did not win because there has been some organisational weakness. Those problems have been addressed.”
As for TIPRA, Das said Debbarma has appeal among tribals, but “sold them false dreams”.
“He demanded Constitutional guarantees for tribes before the elections. But after he won, he travelled to Delhi to meet Amit Shah, accompanied by Biplab Deb. It seems that he is hand-in-glove with the BJP,” Das added.
Debbarma, however, said he shared cordial ties with all senior politicians.
“I have been on good terms with all senior politicians. I met Soniaji and Priyanka Gandhi in Delhi, and I met Amit Shah too. There is nothing wrong with that,” he said. “But unlike other northeastern regional parties, I would never sell my people’s cause for money or anything else. I will fight for the people.”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)
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