The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is grinding away to patch up the cracks that have appeared in its ruling unit in Tripura, observers say, though its leaders have denied the existence of any dissidence. And there may be some changes in the government and local organisation soon, according to sources.
Hectic activity began following reports that some BJP MLAs were planning to switch to the Trinamool Congress, after the Mamata Banerjee-led party’s stunning victory in neighbouring West Bengal’s April-May assembly polls.
Three central BJP leaders, led by all-India general secretary (organisation) BL Santhosh, had daylong meetings with the dissident MLAs from Tripura on June 16.
Ever since the party came to power in Tripura in 2018, about a dozen of its MLAs headed by Sudip Roy Burman have openly displayed their unhappiness with chief minister Biplab Deb. Central leaders, however, had not paid much heed for a long time, say observers. In October last year, these dissidents went to Delhi to meet the party’s top leadership and share their views. And while they were given a patient hearing, no significant change took place.
The BJP since coming back to power at the Centre in 2019 has emphasised on a political Act East Policy. The party’s focus, however, remained largely fixed on Bengal, analysts say. It failed to form the government there in the recent polls, but party insiders say that it is the main opposition party and will keep focus on taking bigger strides there.
Now, however, some changes are expected in Tripura, say sources, as the visiting leaders will submit a report to the top brass and steps will be taken based on it. The general elections are in 2024 and Tripura has two Lok Sabha seats. So why is the BJP concerned about the tiny state?
It’s not just Tripura. The BJP’s focus in now on the entire eastern and north-eastern region of India. Along with the 7 states of the Northeast, states like Bihar, Odisha, and Jharkhand are places where the party is looking to gain ground. That’s a total of about 130 Lok Sabha seats. So even after the assembly election defeat in Bengal, the BJP will keep pushing hard in the state and areas around it. The victory in Assam particularly came as a big boost for it.
The party’s Rajya Sabha lawmaker Swapan Dasgupta says, “The BJP is a growing party in Assam and Tripura. The East is very much in our BJP ecosystem."
The focus of the BJP on the region can also be explained by the expansion plans of the Trinamool Congress, which is looking to become a national force. Mamata Banerjee clearly has her eyes on the big battle in 2024. Her nephew and party heavyweight Abhishek Banerjee recently stated, “We will take the BJP head-on everywhere we go". The TMC has also reportedly been reaching out to the BJP rebels in Tripura. Trinamool’s Rajya Sabha lawmaker Sukhendu Sekhar Ray said, “They are concerned about us now itself…in Tripura they are now in trouble."
Until 2014, BJP was getting its numbers in Parliament mostly from West, Central and North India. Now, the East is in focus because, party sources say, here the anti-incumbency factor will have less of an effect.
India’s ties with China have also nosedived and the BJP government is trying to ramp up border infrastructure and logistical investment. So holding onto the reins of power in these parts is crucial to its policymaking, say analysts.