If it was the rapid rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that changed the political landscape of Tripura in 2018, the buzz now, five years later, is around the Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA) Motha, a regional party floated by former royalty Pradyot Bikram Manikya Debbarma, after leaving the Congress. As it happens, erstwhile arch rivals, the Left Front led by the CPI(M) and the Congress, are in an alliance that they say is essential to counter the rising tide of saffron in the State, which goes to the polls on February 16. The BJP did not match the high expectations that accompanied its swift rise in 2018, and, last year, replaced Biplab Kumar Deb with Manik Saha as Chief Minister to reanimate itself. In its 2018 win, the BJP had ended 25 years of Left Front rule by bagging 36 seats in the 60-member House. It is seeking re-election not so much based on its track record in the State, but by highlighting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image, central schemes, claims about India’s handling of COVID-19, its global economic clout, its G-20 leadership, and the central Budget. The Left-Congress alliance and the Motha have been raising issues of corruption, misuse of government machinery, the reign of fear, and unemployment to target the BJP. By warning people against parties trying to divide Tripura, and ignoring questions about its governance, the BJP is projecting the Motha as its main rival.
The Motha, which is contesting 42 seats, is expected to do well in the 20 tribal-dominated Assembly seats within the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council where it has been in power since 2021. The offer of a pre-poll alliance by both the BJP and the Left-Congress alliance shows that the Motha is a force to reckon with. The Motha rejected the Left-Congress offer while negotiations with the BJP fell through after it declined to give in writing that it would grant a Greater Tipraland within the constitutional framework. The Left-Congress alliance supports the idea as long as it does not affect the State’s territorial integrity but the BJP has rejected it, terming it divisive and designed to make tribals (31.8% of the State’s 36.74 lakh population) and non-tribals drift apart. The Motha disagrees and points out that unlike tribe-based parties of the past, including the BJP’s ally, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, it is more inclusive than the BJP; it also accuses the national party of “dividing people on the basis of religion, food”. By fielding candidates in 22 non-tribal seats, the Motha has been trying to reiterate that it stands for “Tripura for all”, stirring up the State’s politics.
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