From the lush greenery of silent hills to the din and bustle of exalted parliament in India’s megapolis-Rebati Kumar Tripura has come a long way. Resoundingly elected as MP from East Tripura (ST) in the last Loksabha polls, Rebati has already made a positive impression in the house of the people with his brief but pointed interventions with a characteristic simplicity of articulation. His political role stems from a family legacy that had originated from the days of legendary Dasharath Deb, state’s former chief minister and Marxist stalwart. Uprooted from his ancestral home in remote Jagabandhu para by the erstwhile TNV militants in the late eighties, Rebati had to grow up in a rented home in Gandacherra but, undeterred by the adversities, he had completed is masters from Tripura university before landing a job as teacher in Agartala’s Mahatma Gandhi Memorial School in the year 2001. His life and career as a political activist started evolving fast from then on with rapid twists and turns. In this free-wheeling interview based on a two-hour chat in the office of Rebati gives glimpses of his eventful life so far :-


Question: Please tell us about your early life and career as a student?


Answer: I was born in Jagabandhu para, a remote hilly village near Gandacherra town. My father Rabi Kumar Tripura was a Gana Mukti Parishad (GMP) leader and elected ‘Upa Pradhan’ (deputy chief) of the village from the year 1978. I still remember that my elderly family members used to undertake up and down journeys between Gandacherra and Amassa and up to Udaipur or Amarpur on foot to attend meetings addressed by Dasharath Deb. But even when I was in primary school the erstwhile TNV militants had targeted our family and had put a price on my father’s head, so we had to leave Jagabandhu para and take shelter in a rented house at Gandacherra town amidst our close relatives to save our lives. But my father continued to be active in politics, becoming a member of CPI (M)’s Gandacherra divisional committee but now he is naturally detached from politics.



Question: What about your student days and career in politics? How did you join and progress in politics?


Answer: I had studied up to Madhyamik exam in Gandacherra and then did my higher secondary from Kulai H.S. (+2) school before getting admitted to MBB college as a student of political science (honours). I did my MA in political science from Tripura university and then I became a teacher of political science in Mahatma Gandhi Memorial higher secondary school in the year 2001. As a student I had been an office bearer of Tribal Students Union (TSU), tribal student front of the CPI (M) and, in fact, I had been the general secretary of TSU at a time when former MLA Pranab Debbarma was the president. Media person Sevak Bhattacharjee and CPI (M) leader of Belonia subdivision Tapas Dutta were my colleagues in student politics.In the Tripura university also I had been an assistant general secretary (AGS). Subsequently , as a teacher I was a central committee member of Tripura Teachers Association (TTA), CPI (M)’s front organization among private school teachers and office secretary of Tripura Upajati Karmachari Convention, another CPI (M) front. But I must add that I had been officially a party member since the year 1998.


Question: What led to your dissociation from the CPI (M)? Specific reasons for this.


Answer: My problem is that I protest too much and I still refuse to be convinced unless an issue is logically and rationally explained to me. That might have been a problem but, more than that, I used to question the party leadership on a host of issues and insisted on a satisfactory reply. To worsen matters, the local CPI (M) leader and MLA Lalit Mohan Tripura started perceiving me as a potential rival and possible candidate for assembly elections and had organized a mass signature campaign to pre-empt my nomination on the basis of unfounded reports and suspicion. There were other issues also like transfer of my membership location to Gandacherra and my job as teacher. Senior leaders Bijan Dhar and Aghore Debbarma had also looked into the issue but no solution could be found. I had close relation with former MP and GMP president Jiten Chowdhury who asked me not to leave the party but he also failed to resolve the issue of my differences with Lalit Mohan and frankly told me so. Lalit Mohan’s activities and the issue of continuing backwardness of Gandacherra subdivision as a whole convinced me that it was pointless to stick around in CPI (M) unless I could contribute anything.


Question: How did you become a BJP man? What actually attracted you to the party?


Answer: After the assembly election of 2013 I was totally frustrated. As the year passed by I was politically inactive but suddenly young BJP leaders Amit Rakshit and Tapas Roy called on me and invited me to join BJP. I sought time and as the Loksaba election campaign began I was struck by speeches of prime minister Narendra Modi I saw on TV. He seemed to me to be deeply committed and inspiring man with a great vision though in the CPI (M) I had been taught to think and talk only negatively about Modiji. But I still did not take a decision and then Sunil Deodharji contacted me and asked me to take responsibility of the party in Gandacherra and at the state level. Then with consent from my parents I decided to take the final plunge and became a BJP man though INPT had offered to take me in and nominate me for assembly polls in 2018. However, I was against joining a regional party and started organizational work for the BJP. At that time CPI (M) men in Gandacherra had started saying ‘Rebati has gone mad’ but soon they found the ground slipping from under their feet.


Question: What led to CPI (M)’s defeat in Gandacherra ? How did you pull off the impossible?


Answer: To my mind CPI (M) was greatly enfeebled by infighting and an overwhelming anti-incumbency wave sweeping the state. BJP’s organizational work, specially the leadership of Sunil Deodhar and chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb helped much. The importance that BJP gave for winning the election is reflected in the fact that Amit Shah himself had addressed a meeting in Gandacherra. Since the seat had been conceded to IPFT as part of alliance we stayed content but without BJP’s help IPFT could never have won the seat because they had deeply antagonized the considerable number of Bengali and Chakma voters. At that time I did not realize that the BJP leadership was keeping me in reserve for the Loksabha elections. Apart from this, genuine corruption charges against CPI (M) MLA Lalit Mohan Tripura also helped our prospects and by holding a long series of programmes we had been able to strengthen the BJP organisatioanlly. Besides, the murder of Chandmohan Tripura by suspected CPI (M) workers before the assembly election had turned public opinion completely hostile against the party and we won the seat rather easily.


Question: The Loksabha election returned you as victorious candidate. What is your experience as MP and what is your vision for development of Tripura?


Answer: I was reasonably sure that we would win the East Tripura Loksabha seat. The CPI (M) has not yet been able to recover even a small part of its lost ground, we now have a good organisational presence in the state and the leadership was determined to win and, above all, Modiji’s towering image helped us sail through easily. Our chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb worked tirelessly to ensure our victory. In the Loksabha, as has been reported in the media, I have raised a host of issues and met central ministers in the interest of the state to press for extending more assistance to Tripura. I am really grateful to honourable speaker Sri Om Birlaji for encouraging first-time MPs to play an effective role. I had also raised many ‘starred questions’ for direct replies in the Loksabha by ministers and they had been admitted but because of time constraints and too many questions from other MPs most of my ‘starred questions’ missed being taken up. As for vision of development I feel that the economic disparity between urban, rural and hilly areas should be bridged. In the hilly areas we need much better education system, health service and protection of livelihood, specially during the lean period from February to June. Special employment schemes like MGNREGA should be implemented in a systematic manner and this can be supplemented by a state-sponsored scheme so that the deficits left by MGNREGA can be filled up. Besides, income generation sectors like tourism, fruit processing, animal rearing should be given more impetus and advanced methods of agriculture should be applied in non-traditional agricultural areas so that we can have production of vegetable, fruits in hilly areas also. Most important, Tripura’s soil is ideal for cultivation of ‘Agar’ and, if harnessed properly, ‘Agar’ cultivation alone can change the economic profile and contours of Tripura. I am taking these things up and the state government is very serious about this. What is most important is that we must realize that optimum and equitable development in both hills and plains is complementary to each other and should be prioritized for overall development of the state.


The urban-rural and hill-plain economic disparities in Tripura should be bridged, equitable development of all areas is the top priority in the state now.