Tipra Motha grabs attention in Tripura’s 3-cornered poll contest

Feb 13, 2023 02:43 PM IST

The BJP and Congress tried to ally with Tipra Motha but it chose to contest alone after failing to get any concrete assurances over a separate Greater Tipraland state.

For decades, elections in Tripura have been two-way contests. Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M) were the main contestants before Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power for the first time in 2018.

Personnel leave for election duty in Agartala ahead of the assembly polls in Tripura. (PTI)
Personnel leave for election duty in Agartala ahead of the assembly polls in Tripura. (PTI)

The emergence of Tipra Motha appears to have made the February 16 assembly polls a three-cornered fight. Tipra Motha is contesting on its own while the BJP has an alliance with the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT). Congress and the CPI (M) have joined hands and hope to wrest power in the state.

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All major parties have gone all out to woo voters. They have held rallies as well as campaigned door to door.

BJP chief JP Nadda, Union ministers Amit Shah, and Rajnath Singh, and chief ministers of Assam and Uttar Pradesh Himanta Biswa Sarma and Yogi Adityanath have campaigned for the ruling party.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit the state on February 11 and 13 to address rallies as the BJP hopes to retain power.

In 2018, BJP contested 51 seats and won 36. Its alliance partner IPFT contested nine and won eight seats. This year, BJP is contesting 55 seats and IPFT five.

Many in BJP feel the party could have contested all seats on its own. There have also been murmurs of discontent within IPFT over the fewer seats it got. IPFT has also been unhappy over BJP’s alleged backing of at least two independent candidates.

IPFT working president Prem Kumar Reang, who is contesting from Kanchanpur, said an Independent contesting against him is getting the support of local BJP workers. “In Ramchandraghat, a local BJP leader is contesting as an Independent and campaigning against the IPFT candidate.”

Congress and CPI (M) were bitter rivals for decades before joining hands in Tripura for the first time. CPI(M) and other Left parties are contesting 47 seats and the Congress 13.

Congress leader Sudip Roy Barman said the two parties are equally strong and are focused on ensuring BJP does not get an advantage due to a split in votes.

“Someone had to sacrifice and Congress did it for the sake of the people and Tripura. The people wanted that the opposition votes should not split and we ensured that at the cost of the party.”

Tipra Motha has grabbed much attention since Pradyot Debbarma of the erstwhile royal family formed it. The party won the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous Development Council (TTAADC) polls in April 2021.

The BJP and Congress tried to ally with Tipra Motha but Debbarman chose to contest alone after failing to get any concrete assurances over a separate Greater Tipraland state. Debbarma quit the Congress in 2019 and has sought a new state also encompassing areas where Tripuris reside in Assam, Mizoram, and even Bangladesh.

Seen as representative of the state’s 31% tribal population, Tipra Motha is contesting 42 seats. Tripura has 20 out of 60 seats reserved for scheduled tribe (ST) candidates.

Debbarma, popularly known as bubagra (king) or Maharaj, has attracted big crowds, especially in the tribal pockets. Voters, who feel the BJP-IPFT combine has not done much for the indigenous population, are seen to be gravitating towards the new entrant.

Tipra Motha leader Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl said they cannot predict the number of seats they will win. “But if we do not get the numbers and there is no party that gets a majority on its own, we will support a national party from outside to form the government.”

In 2018, BJP-IPFT bagged 18 of the 20 ST seats. STs have traditionally been CPI(M) supporters.

The Congress has promised a special package for tribal development while CPI(M) has pledged more economic and political autonomy to TTAADC.

The BJP has promised more legislative, executive, administrative, and financial powers to the council, annual financial assistance of 5000 to each tribal family, a tribal university, etc.

Trinamool Congress’s campaign has been lacklustre even as it has promised the Bengal model of government in Tripura if voted to power. It is contesting 28 seats.

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    Utpal is a Senior Assistant Editor based in Guwahati. He covers seven states of North-East India and heads the editorial team for the region. He was previously based in Kathmandu, Dehradun and Delhi with Hindustan Times.

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