After much confusion, finally, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decided to allot five seats to its five-year-old coalition partner Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT). The seats allotted to the tribal party are Takarjala (ST), Ramchandraghat (ST), Aasharambari (ST), Jolaibari (ST) and Kanchanpur (ST). While the IPFT initially agreed to contest in five seats, it later put up a candidate in Ampinagar (ST) seat against its ally, the BJP.
Even though the alliance wasn’t at all sweet during the last five years, the BJP decided to continue the same with IPFT after the former’s attempts to strike a pre-poll alliance with the Tripura Indigenous Peoples Regional Alliance (TIPRA Motha) failed. It has to be mentioned that it was the alliance with the IPFT that helped the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to sweep the tribal belt in the 2018 assembly seats and ensured the first saffron government in this northeastern state.
But this time, the IPFT may not be very helpful to the BJP. The situation of 2018 is the past, whereas the present situation is very different. To start with, the supporters of the BJP and IPFT never had a good bonding on the ground. After the formation of the saffron government-where the IPFT also had party supremo NC Debbarma and Mevar Kumar Jamatia as state ministers-supporters of both parties started to fight against each other in their motive to control the hilly areas. In the Lok Sabha elections, which were held just a year after the state polls, both partners contested separately.
On the other hand, the IPFT became so busy enjoying the fruits of power that it forgot the very demand of Tipraland which brought them immense success. Last time, the BJP had allotted nine seats out of which, the IPFT had won eight — the best strike rate by any party in the 2018 assembly polls. Then in 2019, when Pradyot Bikram Manikya Debbarma resigned from the state Congress president post due to differences with the party’s high command on the issue of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and formed the TIPRA Motha with the slogan of a Greater Tipraland-basically an extension of the IPFT’s Tipraland demand-the ground reality began to change. The disgruntled IPFT ground workers feeling betrayed by the party leadership started to join the Motha.
That change was evident when the TIPRA Motha-led alliance won 18 seats in the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) polls and came to power by defeating the BJP-IPFT alliance. Pradyot actually reached out to the IPFT for an alliance before the polls, and the latter initially agreed to contest in alliance with the Motha in the ADC polls, but later decided to ally with the saffron party. Of course, the result was disastrous for the IPFT, which scored a blank while the saffron was able to win nine seats. The ground workers of the BJP didn’t wholeheartedly accept the alliance. The prominent IPFT candidate to lose the election was the then minister Mevar Kumar Jamatia’s wife Gita Debbarma. In some seats, there were BJP rebels against IPFT and one of the rebels — Bhumika Nanda Reang — even won a seat and later joined the saffron party. Even during the seat-sharing deal, the BJP agreed to contest 11 and the IPFT 14, while in three other seats, both parties agreed to have a friendly fight.
After the debacle in the ADC polls, the beleaguered IPFT leadership started to have a churn within itself. That churning divided the party with its second-in-command Mevar Kumar Jamatia preferring the Motha while the NC Debbarma faction favouring the alliance with the BJP. Due to the failing health of NC Debbarma, Prem Kumar Reang became the party’s working president and also replaced Mevar as a minister in the state cabinet. However, Prem Kumar lacks the political charisma of NC Debbarma, who passed away last month. Dissatisfied with the party, three MLAs of the IPFT at different times joined the TIPRA Motha. The first to desert was Brishaketu Debbarma, the party’s MLA from Simna (ST) constituency. Later, Dhananjay Tripura of Raima Valley (ST) constituency and Mevar Kumar Jamatia of Asharambari (ST) constituency also joined the Motha.
As elections approached, the IPFT was again wooed by royal scion Pradyot Debbarma-led TIPRA Motha in a bid to bring all tribal parties under one umbrella. Pradyot had even given a letter to Prem Kumar, regarding the unification of both parties as they were fighting for the same cause. The IPFT was also keen on an alliance but not interested in merging with the Motha. At the same time, it didn’t close its doors with the BJP. During this time, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government announced Padma Shri posthumously for NC Debbarma. At the last moment, the IPFT agreed to fight under the NDA umbrella and once again turned away from Motha.
However, ground-level BJP workers and supporters aren’t happy with the alliance. The Jolaibari (ST) of South Tripura, which was contested by the BJP last time and won by CPI(M), is being allotted to IPFT this time but the saffron party’s local workers and supporters are angry with this. They say that the IPFT has no existence in this constituency. As a result, three BJP rebels have filed nominations as independents. IPFT’s youth leader Shukla Charan Noatia is fighting from there. In the Kanchanpur (ST) seat of North Tripura, the party’s working president Prem Kumar Reang, the sitting MLA of this seat, is contesting but the BJP local workers aren’t ready to support the IPFT here. A BJP rebel has filed a nomination as an independent in this seat. Even the IPFT’s working president isn’t being supported by the BJP local workers. This shows how the alliance is a forceful one with ground workers of both parties sharing a bitter bond.
Importantly, while the IPFT initially agreed to contest on five seats with the BJP, later, it surprisingly put up Sindhu Chandra Jamatia in Ampinagar (ST) seat, where BJP’s vice-president Patal Kanya Jamatia is contesting. Sindhu Chandra is the sitting MLA from this seat. In Asharambari (ST), NC Debbarma’s daughter Jayanti is contesting while in the Ramchandraghat (ST) seat, the party nominated its sitting MLA Prasanta Debbarma again. In Ramchandraghat too, a BJP rebel has filed a nomination as an independent against the IPFT. In NC Debbarma’s Takarjala (ST) seat, Bidhan Debbarma will be contesting.
Barring the Jolaibari seat, the IPFT won all the seats allotted by the BJP in the last election, that too with margins higher than 10 percent votes. In fact, IPFT’s NC Debbarma won the Takarjala seat with a margin of 36.34 percent — the highest in the last election. In the Asharambari seat, party’s Mevar Kumar Jamatia won with a margin of 21.24 percent. Now, Mevar is in TIPRA Motha. Even in the Ampinagar seat, the IPFT won last time with a margin of 14.80 percent votes.
This time, the road to victory seems tough for the IPFT, which has lost most of its base to the TIPRA Motha. Currently, the party doesn’t even have the strength to win its bastions like Takarjala or Asharambari on its own and the BJP can’t expect that the same IPFT will be very helpful for the NDA. That’s also the reason the BJP workers aren’t ready to vote for the IPFT candidates. On the other hand, IPFT ground workers too, don’t share a good bond with the BJP and now with the latter’s ground-level workers openly expressing their displeasure against IPFT candidates, including the working president, it is likely that a section of supporters the IPFT currently has, are also unlikely to vote for the BJP. Although in the last election, the vote transfer was smooth between both partners. This time, it is unlikely to be so.
Sagarneel Sinha is a political commentator and tweets @SagarneelSinha. Views expressed are personal.
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