BJP hand-picks tribal artisans to weave garments for PM. It’s trying hard to woo the community in its bid to defeat Manik Sarkar’s Left Front govt.
New Delhi: When in Tripura, appear like the tribal people of the state, especially if you are wooing them to vote for your party – that seems to be the message the BJP wants to send when Prime Minister Narendra Modi lands in the northeastern state on 31 January for his first pre-election trip.
Modi, party sources said, will don traditional tribal headgear and ‘risa’, a piece of cloth worn on the upper body, sending a strong political message to the state’s tribal population.
The BJP has been in talks with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura for a pre-poll alliance, and is banking on tribal support to dislodge the Left Front government, which has been in power for 25 years, 20 of those under Manik Sarkar.
The plan is for the PM to address two rallies – one in north Tripura and the other in the southern part of the state – on the same day. Modi’s previous visit to Tripura was on 3 December 2014, when he inaugurated a thermal power plant.
Hand-picked to hand-weave
The ‘risa’ to be worn by Modi will not be commercially made; in fact, to make it special, the BJP’s state unit has engaged an award-winning tribal artisan, Swarna Debbarma, to hand-weave it for the PM.
Another artisan from Borokathal – Uttara Debbarma – is weaving a jacket for the PM.
Swarna said she had been working on the ‘risa’ for the past two months, and feels very lucky to have been chosen.
“When I heard that the Prime Minister is coming to Tripura, I wanted to express my love and gratitude for him through my art. I feel happy and proud that I have been selected for this honour,” said Swarna, adding that she hopes to present the garment herself.
Swarna, 34, lives in a one-room tin-shed house, in the narrowest lane of a colony full of cemented houses. She moved to Agartala only two years ago to support her daughter’s studies.
She said hand-weaving may be laborious, but gives ample scope for the artisan to experiment with colours and designs.
“Making risas and rignais is a dying art. There is no recognition. People are more attracted towards machine-made clothes as they are cheap and readily available,” she complained.
“Hand-woven clothes can take months, depending on the amount of work required by the customer. People’s patience levels have gone down; they can’t wait for clothes with top-quality craftsmanship.”
Significance of the choice
The BJP’s Tripura polls in-charge Sunil Deodhar alleged that under Manik Sarkar’s reign, tribal arts and crafts had been destroyed. This is why the PM wanted to give them recognition in this “humble way”.
Of the 60 seats in the Tripura assembly, 20 are dominated by tribals, while another 15 have a significant number of tribal votes. Thus, wooing tribal voters could prove crucial for the BJP’s dream to overthrow the Left Front government, and expand its footprint in the Northeast.