Tripura: The story of a fractured ruling alliance and a divided Opposition
In the backdrop of intensified infighting within the Tripura Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unit, three first-time BJP legislators were inducted as ministers into chief minister (CM) Biplab Kumar Deb’s Cabinet last Tuesday.
This happened ahead of the 2023 assembly polls to manage internal disputes and put up a fight against Opposition forces, especially the Trinamool Congress (TMC), which has started making inroads into the northeastern state to uproot the BJP-Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) government.
This was the first expansion of the 12-minister Cabinet since the BJP came to power in Tripura in 2018. There is still space for one more minister in the Cabinet.
A minor reshuffle
Within hours of the induction of the three new ministers, Sushanta Chowdhury, Bhagaban Das and Ramprasad Paul, CM Biplab Deb slightly reshuffled portfolios of the Cabinet to promote equity between the ruling alliance, by letting go of vital departments such as home (jail, fire and emergency services), industries and commerce, urban development, information and cultural affairs, and labour. The CM kept health, public works department (PWD), industries and commerce (IT), general administration, and election departments with him. This reshuffling was also done in the portfolios of the sitting ministers.
A part of BJP sitting minister Ratan Lal Nath’s charge was given to Ramprasad Paul who also got charge of home and the department of cooperation. Nath has education and law departments with him.
Santana Chakma, the only woman sitting minister in Deb’s Cabinet, let go of animal resources development for newly-inducted Bhagaban Das, who also was given the portfolios of scheduled caste welfare and labour. Chakma was given the new charge of urban development, apart from her previous charge of social welfare and social education.
Sushanta Chowdhury got charge of information and cultural affairs, PWD (drinking water and sanitation) and sports and youth affairs. Besides, sitting IPFT revenue minister NC Debbarma’s fisheries department went to another IPFT minister Mewar Kumar Jamatia who also got industries and commerce (handloom, handicrafts and sericulture). The latter’s forest department went to NC Debbarma.
Quelling internal discontent
The Cabinet expansion happened following a series of meetings in the presence of BJP national secretary Dilip Saikia, the party’s northeast zonal secretary (organisation), Ajay Jamwal, the party’s Tripura unit in-charge Vinod Sonkar, and general secretary (organisation), Phanindranath Sarma. They arrived soon after Sudip Roy Barman, a rebel BJP legislator, held a separate meeting with a few of his party legislators to identify the mistakes of the state government and the party, and decided to bring these issues to the central leadership.
Unresolved issues continue to plague the BJP-IPFT combine, which stormed to power in 2018, bringing an end to a two-decade-old Marxist government. A section of its legislators, including Barman, feel they can’t function under the present leadership under CM Deb. Of the three newly inducted ministers, two had accompanied Barman last year, allegedly to complain against the Deb-led government.
Barman and some other legislators skipped the swearing-in ceremony last week. On the issue, Barman said, “Our aim is to address problems of the people. If they are good, we are happy. I congratulate the new ministers and hope they will perform their duties well. There are many legislators who didn’t attend the ceremony due to some problems. So, we should not be seen and labelled as isolated ones in the party.”
Regarding poll preparations, he said that he would work as per the decision and duties decided for him by the party. He rubbished the allegation of being in touch with TMC leaders. “Politics should continue in a peaceful environment and no attacks should take place, or else, it will not be a good sign for the state. I, mainly, appeal to the ruling party to keep faith on getting mass acceptance rather on muscles,” said the rebel legislator.
Barman and five other legislators switched over to BJP in 2017, a year after joining the TMC from the Congress. Sushanta Chowdhury, too, joined the saffron party along with him. Chowdhury was earlier Youth Congress president before switching over to the TMC and then the BJP. Barman, entrusted with health, science and technology and few other portfolios, was removed from the post in 2019 due to alleged anti-party activities.
The Opposition landscape
But while the ruling party has witnessed fractures, the Opposition is a divided house too.
The Opposition forces still command over 46.50% of votes in the 2018 assembly poll results, including the Communist Party of India (Marxist) of CPI(M) and its Left Front partners — the CPI, the Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP). However, the Congress and TMC, along with the Left, are nowhere near building a united front, leaving the ground open for BJP.
After its victory in Bengal for the third time, the TMC’s focus expanded to Tripura. The TMC first hit the headlines in Tripura in July when 23 members of political strategist Prashant Kishor’s Indian-Political Action Committee (I-PAC) were detained and forced to stay inside a hotel in Agartala, charging them of violating Covid-19 norms. The visits of party bigwigs — including general secretary Abhishek Banerjee, Bengal minister Bratya Basu, some parliamentarians — and a sudden influx of people from different political parties joining the TMC in a short time (especially former BJP vice president Subal Bhowmik), perhaps, became a cause of concern to the BJP.
But despite all Opposition parties rallying against the BJP, they are yet to decide on a united fight against the saffron party. They have also alleged that the ruling party has attacked their workers. The government has rejected the charges.
The state’s politics, thus, remains torn between a fractured ruling party and a divided Opposition.
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