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Would rather sit in opposition than dilute our core demands, says TIPRA chief Pradyot Debbarma

Seen as kingmaker ahead of Tripura polls, TIPRA Motha said it will contest alone after talks with Congress-Left & BJP fell through. For Debbarma, neither Left nor Congress adversary.

Tipraha Indigenous People’s Regional Alliance (TIPRA) Chairman Pradyot Bikram Manikya Debbarma with supporters during a rally over the demand of 'Greater Tipraland' in Agartala | ANI file photo
Tipraha Indigenous People’s Regional Alliance (TIPRA) Chairman Pradyot Bikram Manikya Debbarma with supporters during a rally over the demand of 'Greater Tipraland' in Agartala | ANI file photo

New Delhi: The Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA Motha) would rather sit in opposition than join the government in a post-poll alliance and dilute its core demands, party chief Pradyot Bikram Manikya Debbarma has said. 

In an exclusive interview with ThePrint, Debbarma, a former Congressman and scion of the Manikya dynasty of Tripura, said his party’s primary opponent in the state is the Left-Congress combine, with the Left Front being the stronger contender in tribal areas and Congress in general areas. 

Despite having resigned from the Congress as state president in 2019, he said the party could never be called an adversary and he “always had a soft spot for Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi”.

“In a sense, I am the real Congress in the state because I have neither gone with the Left nor with the BJP,” he added.

Tripura is one of nine states that will see assembly elections this year. The Motha, now being seen as a kingmaker in the state with national parties wooing it, has announced that it will contest the elections alone. It has already declared candidates for 43 of the 60 assembly constituencies. 

Asked whether he is open to a post-poll alliance with either of the two principal contenders — the Left Congress combine and the BJP — he said he would only back a government that promises to fulfil all of its demands. 

“Right now we are zero. Even if we get 30 seats, let the others come and speak to us for that extra one seat. I am making it very clear that even if we get a good number of MLAs but not enough to form a government, we would rather sit in the opposition than dilute our demands to form a government,” he said.

The Motha chief added: “None of us will sit in a ministry till our demands are met and a Constitutional solution offered. We would rather have the Left-Congress (combine) form a government and support them from the outside if they support our demands. Only once they give a Constitutional solution will we sit in the ministry.”

Although diligently wooed by both sides, talks fell through over Debbarma’s insistence on a written commitment for ‘Greater Tipraland’ — a separate state for the indigenous people of Tripura.

Also Read: Old Pension Scheme now a poll plank in Tripura. ‘Part of our manifesto’, says CPI(M)

‘Congress can never be my adversary’

Debbarma comes from a family of Congress politicians. Both his parents had been with the party and his mother Rajmata Bibhu Kumari Devi was elected to the 10th Lok Sabha from Tripura East constituency on a Congress ticket.

Asked whether he considers the Congress-Left or the BJP as his principal challengers in the state, Debbarma said: “Congress can never be my adversary. The Left has always taken us on but I have seen them soften their stance. It is not an adversary (either)”.

As for the BJP, he said many leaders in Delhi want to help the tribal people of Tripura but “are scared of the local BJP in Tripura (and of) going against their point of view”.

The principal opponent would vary from seat to seat, he further said, adding: “The main contest in most seats in tribal areas is against the communist party. BJP is nowhere in the picture and Congress unfortunately is in a very bad position there. In some of the general areas it may be with the Congress and in some seats with the BJP.”

Debbrama doesn’t agree that a direct contest between the Motha and the Left or the Congress could divide anti-incumbency votes, giving the BJP an advantage.

“If you see what happened in the autonomous district council elections, we completely vanquished the Left. The vote did not transfer to the BJP and neither did BJP votes go to the Left. Tribals vote en bloc,” he said, adding that in general areas, the Congress got more votes than the Left in the 2019 general election for the first time in 30 years.

He quit the Congress later that year over differences with Luizinho Faleiro, the party’s then general secretary and northeast in-charge.

‘Did not want to be tied to a single seat’

Much like former chief minister Manik Sarkar, Debbarma plans to sit out the assembly election.  

“It was never about me, it was always about the issue. I know leaders like the prime minister, Amit Shah, (J P) Nadda ji, Smriti Irani, and those from the Congress will be campaigning here. I will be in every constituency campaigning. I didn’t want to be bogged down in a single seat where they would encircle us,” he said.

Before deciding to fight the election alone, Motha leaders had held several meetings with BJP leaders both in Guwahati and in New Delhi. 

“I was not talking with the BJP, I was talking to the Ministry of Home Affairs,” he told ThePrint. “I told the BJP that with them I could not be negotiating with individual leaders. With Congress, I can talk to (Mallikarjun) Kharge ji, with Left I can talk to (Sitaram) Yechury ji. But since BJP is in power, it has to be the MHA.”

He added that he met Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma for alliance talks. 

“But I was very clear (that) unless there is a written commitment that is made public, people would not believe it. Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) was let down by a similar commitment in the past,” he said. 

Motha had been in talks with the IPFT, but the latter, which also relies on its tribal voter base, chose to go with its old ally, the BJP. 

IPFT is set to fight six seats, but Debbarma predicts that “they will lose their deposits”. 

According to him, another political party whose prospects in the polls are bleak is the Trinamool Congress, a party with which he held meetings in 2021. 

“I have a lot of respect for Mamataji personally though I have never met her. I met Abhishek…they will struggle very badly in Tripura,” he told ThePrint.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

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