Agartala: Newly-appointed Tripura Chief Minister Dr Manik Saha, who took oath Sunday, has said that the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is “very much united”, adding that there are “stray incidents in every family”.
However, when asked if his focus will now be on keeping the flock together amid reports of increasing factionalism, he told ThePrint in an interview: “A 100 per cent…both the party and the government should go ahead together and people’s problems should be addressed.”
The BJP announced a change in leadership in Tripura Saturday, a move that sent shockwaves across the Northeast. Biplab Kumar Deb, who was appointed CM following the 2018 assembly elections, tendered his resignation, after which BJP state president and Rajya Sabha MP Saha was chosen in his stead.
ThePrint had earlier reported that growing rifts within the party as well as discontentment with Deb’s leadership had led to the party central leadership replacing him just months ahead of the state assembly polls due next year.
Asked about factionalism and the defections of MLAs Sudip Roy Barman and Ashish Saha to the Congress in February, Saha said, “Prior to 2018, the party vote share was at 1.6 per cent. Other people have also joined our party and the vote share increased to 44 per cent. So there are different kinds of philosophies and thoughts. It is not possible to change their minds at once, it will take time.”
The 69-year-old, a dentist by profession, had joined the BJP back in 2016 after leaving the Congress. In 2018, he was made in-charge of the booth management committee. He was made chief of the party’s state unit in 2020 and was elected to the Rajya Sabha in March this year.
ThePrint had earlier reported that Saha was chosen for the CM’s post as party leaders consider him as someone who could bring warring factions together, and because he had also played a crucial role in last year’s Tripura civic polls, in which the BJP recorded a landslide victory.
‘Sometimes there are stray incidents’
At the party event where the BJP announced the change of CM Saturday, state Minister of Minorities Welfare Ram Prasad Paul was allegedly seen arguing with his colleagues and smashing a plastic chair in a video that went viral on social media. Other MLAs were also allegedly seen arguing at the event.
Saha, however, denied reports of cracks in the state BJP unit. “We are very much united, in the morning also we saw that all MLAs and leaders came together. Sometimes there are stray incidents, it happens in every family. But, eventually it depends on whether we can control it or not, convince them or not,” he told ThePrint.
A source in the BJP however indicated that all is not well within the state government. “The oath-taking ceremony had also been planned for the cabinet ministers, but Deputy CM Jishnu Dev Varma and Ram Prasad Paul didn’t show up until later. So it only took place for the CM.”
Varma also changed his Twitter bio from “Deputy Chief Minister of Tripura, India” to “MLA 19 Charilam Constituency”.
‘Good chemistry with Biplab Deb’
Asked about his equation with ex-CM Deb, Saha said that only the “baton has been passed” to him, adding: “I have very good chemistry with him and that will remain forever.”
“In our party they always observe [our work], on that basis this person should be pushed in there for this specific work, in that way they decide. Here it is not very important who is where. In BJP, all are karyakartas,” he further said.
‘No impact on 2023 polls’
In the next year’s state assembly polls, the BJP will be competing against the Trinamool Congress, regional party TIPRA Motha (The Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance), as well as the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which is the main opposition party, led by Manik Sarkar, a former and longest-serving chief minister of Tripura.
Asked about what kind of challenges these parties may pose for the BJP, Saha said, “There is no challenge, because in the previous election we had the votes and in future also there will be a vote.”
Asked whether the change of leadership would affect the BJP’s prospects for 2023 polls, he said they would not.
Meanwhile, the TIPRA Motha, led by Pradyot Manikya Debbarma, a scion of the erstwhile royal family of Tripura, is emerging as the main challenger on the 20 reserved tribal seats. In the 2021 Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) elections, the party had won 18 of 28 seats.
The BJP’s alliance partner in government, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), could not secure a single seat in the last tribal council elections. Recently, it also suffered a vertical split and was divided under the leadership of two incumbent ministers.
Asked about how the BJP will be battling it out for the 20 reserved tribal seats, Saha said, “We already have 10 tribal MLAs, one MP is tribal, so we have 10 MDCs (members of District Council). We are very much strong enough to win in the hill area and ADC area.”
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)