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Why ex-Congress leader ‘Maharaj’ Pradyot Debbarma could now hold key to 2023 Tripura polls

Pradyot Manikya’s TIPRA Motha & its ally INPT won 18 seats in tribal areas’ district council polls, while BJP won 9 and its partner IPFT drew a blank.

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Guwahati: Saturday’s Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) election results showed the indigenous people voted for the leadership of a single man — royal scion and former state Congress president Pradyot Kishore Debbarma (also known as Pradyot Manikya).

The TTAADC covers 68 per cent of the total geographical area of Tripura, and is home to over one-third of the total state population. The district council has a total of 30 seats, of which 28 are for elected members, while two are nominated by the governor of Tripura.

Pradyot Manikya’s newly launched political party Tiprasa Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA) Motha and its ally Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra (INPT) won 18 out of the 23 seats they contested, while the BJP won nine. BJP’s ally Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT), the Left Front and the Congress drew a blank.

“We have won, and perhaps other states can learn from us — regional unity and clarity is important,” Pradyot Manikya said in a social media statement, adding that he would sit for a discussion with the regional parties.

In the last TTAADC elections held in May 2015, the CPI(M)-led Left Front made a near-clean sweep, winning 25 seats. In the previous two elections in 2005 and 2010, the Left had won all 28 seats.

Also read: ‘Should I stay or go?’ — Biplab Deb seeks people’s mandate to continue as Tripura CM

Why Pradyot & TIPRA triumphed

There is resentment among the tribal people of Tripura against the BJP-IPFT government led by Biplab Deb and the erstwhile Left Front government. Pradyot Manikya, locally known as ‘Maharaj’ because he’s the scion of the erstwhile princely state of Tripura, used this resentment to his electoral advantage, by presenting himself as a man of the people; an appealing leader who is modest and engaging.

In 2019, he resigned as Tripura Congress president, citing pressure from the All India Congress Committee (AICC) to withdraw the case he had filed in the Supreme Court demanding implementation of the National Register of Citizens in Tripura in 2019. The non-implementation of the NRC and the government’s support to Citizenship (Amendment) Act are the other two issues he pursued.

He then floated the TIPRA Motha for welfare of indigenous people in the state, and decided to contest the ADC polls demanding ‘Greater Tipraland’ — one that seeks to include every tribal person living in indigenous area or villages outside the TTAADC, which accounts for two-thirds of the state’s geographical area.

Pradyot promised that if the alliance wins, a resolution demanding ‘Greater Tipraland’ will be passed in the district council. Under his proposed model, Tripuris living in Mizoram, Assam and even Bangladesh would be benefitted.

The demand found resonance with the INPT, one of the oldest tribal regional parties in the state, which tied up with TIPRA for the district council polls. The INPT ended up winning two seats while TIPRA won 16.

However, CPI(M) leader Jiten Chaudhury told ThePrint the idea of Greater Tipraland or Twipraland was just an “illusion”.

“Though the TIPRA has won, it will never be in a position to fulfil its promises. It has promised nothing on the common issues, but to form Greater Twipraland on lines of the illusion created by IPFT that earlier demanded Twipraland. This illusion will not sustain,” Chaudhury said.

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Could Pradyot join hands with BJP?

Now, the TIPRA Motha’s emergence as the largest tribal party in Tripura signals a big change in the state’s political landscape. But whether this change is an aberration or something permanent, and whether it will support the long-term interests of the indigenous people, remains an open question, to which answers may be found in the state assembly polls in 2023.

Observers say a new political equation could soon be brewing in Tripura, spelling trouble for the BJP’s ally IPFT, which could not win a single seat in the TTAADC election. Of the 28 seats, the BJP-IPFT alliance put up candidates in 25, while they fought friendly contests in the other three. In the 2018 assembly elections, the BJP-IPFT alliance had won 18 of the 20 constituencies where tribal council seats are located.

Congratulating the winning candidates, the BJP gave a subtle hint that its defeat was due to the IPFT’s poor performance. Its spokesperson Subrata Chakraborty said in Agartala Saturday that it will sit with the IPFT to discuss what went wrong. He also hoped the party running the TTAADC would work together with the ruling BJP-IPFT government.

Political analyst Shekhar Datta told ThePrint: “Pradyot’s party might replace IPFT as the BJP’s new ally for the next assembly elections. IPFT will be much weaker now as it has not been able to win a single seat in the ADC polls. Moreover, Pradyot has a good equation with Chief Minister Biplab Deb. At this stage, things are quite fluid.”

Congress praises its ‘friend’, BJP & CPI(M) trade barbs

The Congress accepted its performance was unsatisfactory, but is also hopeful that the TIPRA Motha will choose to be its alliance partner for the next assembly elections.

“We could not perform as expected. There are strong emotions attached with the Maharaja (Pradyot Manikya) in the tribal areas. Earlier, we had no other organisation in the tribal areas,” Tripura Pradesh Congress vice-president Tapas Dey told ThePrint, adding that it is unlikely TIPRA would ally with either BJP or the Left for the 2023 assembly polls.

“They would fight alone. But we are their closest friends. We expect them to join hands with us. If there’s any scope, we can go for alliance. The BJP had approached him, offered many things like ministerial or Rajya Sabha berth, but he had honourably refused,” said Dey.

“Pradyot has come out as a new force, and he will try to expand it (TIPRA). This is the end of the BJP; the Congress will survive. Earlier, BJP came to power because many Congressmen joined the party. All of them — CPI(M), BJP and IPFT are marginalised,” he added.

Analyst Datta also said the Congress cannot be ruled out as a force.

“It might not have won a single seat, but it has still managed a percentage of votes that will remain. The party has its usual problems like lack of good leadership, and is a divided house. For the Left, people have not forgotten the CPI(M)’s track record on many issues. A lot more was expected which it could not deliver,” he said.

Meanwhile, the ruling BJP and the Left Front, which ran the government for 31 years from 1977 to 2018, exchanged barbs about their respective defeats.

BJP’s Subrata Chakraborty said: “Those who created a terror-like situation in the past… that political party could not win a single seat in this election.”

Meanwhile, the CPI(M) said TIPRA’s victory is a reflection of the people’s anger against the policies of the state government, and a lesson for the BJP-IPFT alliance.

“The new party that has swept polls — it is also because of the abnormal situation in the state brought about by the ruling party. The common issues could not surface properly under the current government, and that’s where TIPRA resorted to identity politics. The entire tribal voters, especially the young generation, has shifted towards the new party,” said Jiten Chaudhury.

“The ruling party alliance will learn some lessons — CPI(M) could not leave its footprint being in opposition, but they, being in power, also lost,” he added.

(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)

Also read: RSS has infiltrated Tripura Congress, Pradyot Debbarma says after quitting party


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