Deciphering Tripura Verdict-2023

VK Bahuguna

(Writer is Chairman of Centre for Resource Management and Environment)

March 17, 2023, 09:42:42   

Deciphering Tripura Verdict-2023

The re-election of the Manik Shah led BJP government in the recently concluded Assembly Elections has surprised many analysts as before one years ago the BJP was facing anti-incumbency and possibility of defeat in the hustling in the ensuing 2023 assembly Elections due to perception of omissions and commissions of the Biplab Dev led government. The BJP sensing public mood changed the Chief Minister a few months before the election to state assembly and installed Mr. Manik Shah as State Chief Minister. Mr. Shah then had just been elected to the Rajya Sabha. He swapped positions with Biplab Dev. Soon after becoming Chief Minister Manik Shah won the election to become MLA as per the requirements of the constitution. During his brief tenure the BJP High Command and the RSS tried their best to reverse the anti-incumbency factor. It made some difference as the suave and mild-mannered honest Dentists tried to fix the architecture of anti-incumbency in the administration but still the public mood was very uncertain. In November 2022 when I had visited the State several people told me that they are thinking to go back to CPM fold for voting, but their attitude depends upon how the opposition front emerges. Most of the people told me that it is a fact that BJP had brought some changes the way development schemes should be implemented, but the corruption and contracting out jobs to outsiders and poor law and order situation was turning the people away from the BJP. The BJP mandarins must take note that Tripura during the Communist rule has been largely free from rampant corruption due to the image and monitoring himself by Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, who is known to be one of the most honest politicians the country has seen in several decades.


In the meanwhile, during last one year or so the BJP's tribal partner Indigenous People Front of Tripura (IPFT) got divided as the Forest and Tribal Welfare Minister and second important leader in IPFT hierarchy resigned and joined Pradyot Manikya Dev Barman’s Tripura Motha party along with several grass root level workers. The IPFT was further jolted by the serious illness and death of their President and Revenue Minister NC Deb Barma very close to election thus shattering the grip of tribal voters in the hands of IPFT. 


But the most important thing that almost decimated the regional Tribal outfit and BJP's partner was the emergence of Pradyot as the only hope of Tribal youth who were getting long enchanted with the state government policies and programs. Prodyot who was heading the state congress earlier before he resigned from the Congress and created Tripura Motha with his demand for carving out separate Greater Tripura Land state (though impractical for a tiny state of 10,000 sq km area). This attracted the tribal youths as they have great respect for the Tripura Royal family. Pradyot Manikya as President of state congress was not able to run the faction ridden state congress despite his closeness with Rahul and hence plunged into state tribal politics to occupy the space for Tribal aspirations.


 For most part of the post-independence era the CPM had strong base among the Tribals with the help of two legendary Communist leaders Dasarath Deb a fierce tribal leader and Nripen Chakraborty till Tripura Upajati Yuva Samiti (TUJS) belligerence dented the space resulting in Congress-TUJS coalition came to power in 1988. The coalition indulged in huge corruption and maladministration and with increasing insurgency the CPM stormed back to power with Dasarath Deb as the Chief Minister in 1993. In 1998 when Manik Sarkar became the Chief Minister and ruled for 20 years with iron hand and in close cooperation with the then Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani with firm hand and cooperation from Bangladesh is credited with ending the bloody insurgency which saw administrative and social strife in Tripura.


After Mr. Manik Sarkar lost the 2017 assembly election, the CPM started grooming Mr. Jitendra Chaudhury a dynamic and Charismatic Tribal leader and the former state Minister and Lok Sabha MP to take over as the CPM state secretary and as head of the Gan Mukti Parishad the tribal wing of the CPM. Mr. Chaudhury is considered a liberal leader with modern outlook on development and believe in development of tribals and non-tribals as a cohesive national social capital. The CPM resurgence started after his raking over the party reign in Malermath the state CPM headquarter at Agartala. He swung into networking action and gradually realized that in politics there are no permanent enemies and friends. He talked to Congress as well as to Pradyot’s Tripura Motha. Ultimately, based on the past vote calculation the CPM stitched a coalition with the state congress so that a united opposition can take on the powerful BJP. However, Tripura Motha Party was in contact with BJP as well as opposition asking both to accept his party’s demands and just before elections also met the Home Minister Amit Shah. His main aim was to make a dent in state politics.


After the elections were over in Nagaland and Meghalaya the Exit Poll on 27th February 2023 showed BJP returning to power again. The Exit poll predictions were pooh-poohed by both the CPM and the Congress. On 2nd March the results were out and BJP won 32 seats and its partner IPFT one seat. Though the BJP returned to power but lost several seats including the seat of deputy Chief minister Jishnu Devbarma another Scion of Tripura Royal family.


Now the question is what brought BJP to power and what went wrong with Jitendra Chaudhury led CPM-Congress combine. First, the emergence of Motha which though did not put up candidate in Subroom constituency and helped Jitendra Chaudhury to scrap through this seat, Motha ensured the defeat of CPM candidates in many constituencies. Motha had put up non-tribal candidates in many Bengali dominated areas and thus deprived the CPM and Congress of anti BJP votes. The Second, reason may be as some analyst feel- many Bengali Bhadralok did not like the CPM-Congress alliance who had been otherwise fighting bloody battle for more than 50 years in the state coming together only to defeat a party like which roots for nationalistic policies. The Third reason was the doubts in Bengali people about the possible repetition of violence if Motha comes to power as on several occasions Motha workers have indulged in arson and violence so all the ambivalent voters closer to elections shifted back to BJP. The Fourth and most plausible reason was the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah which ultimately helped BJP to come back to power with an additional advantage of an educated and balanced man heading the government. Now all eyes are on Pradyot Manikya as to which way he will go. Intelligence demands his party cooperates with the new government which he definitely, wittingly helped in coming back to power and get maximum favor for the tribal youths sans demand for a separate state which is an impractical idea. His party first should focus on demarcating 1 lakh hectares tribal lands vested under Forest Right Act and making it productive with a central sector scheme.