For the first time in Tripura since 1952, the Tipra Motha Party (TMP), a tribal-based political outfit, scripted history in the recently-concluded Assembly polls by emerging as the principal opposition party with 13 seats, but its political flip-flops and gimmicks are now attracting sharp criticism from different quarters.
On Friday's poll to elect the new Assembly Speaker, all the 13 MLAs led by TMP's legislative party leader Animesh Debbarma walked out from the House just before the beginning of the voting process, expressing their displeasure over a petty matter related to sitting arrangements in the House.
TMP supremo Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barman had earlier promised to support the joint candidate fielded by the CPI-M and the Congress, Gopal Chandra Roy. In fact, Deb Barma, who is also the incumbent leader of the opposition, was one of the proposers in Roy's nomination paper.
Hours after Deb Barman's assurance to the Congress leaders, Home Minister Amit Shah had on Thursday informed him that the Centre would appoint an interlocutor by March 27 to study the "constitutional solutions" to TMP's demands for more autonomy and socio-economic development of the tribals, who constitute one-third of Tripura's 4 million populations.
Political observers feel that after Shah's phone call, and Deb Barman's subsequent meeting with Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the TMP supremo changed his stand on the Speaker's election.
Deb Barman, who is now in Delhi, tweeted on Friday: "In a follow up to yesterday's conversation with the Home Minister regarding the appointment of an interlocutor, I met Himanta Biswa Sarma last evening and he will be briefing the Home Minister regarding the urgency of this matter .
"We are interested in a honourable constitutional solution to the problem of our indigenous people and hope that this process starts within the next few days as promised."
Tripura Congress President Birajit Sinha said that it was very unfortunate that they (TMP MLAs) abstained from voting despite putting their signature for the joint candidate.
"The Congress-Left combine could have bagged more seats in the Assembly elections had TMP not contested the non-reserved seats," he said.
The TMP contested 20 tribal reserved seats and 22 general and Scheduled Caste, facilitating the BJP to win 16 of them, taking its tally to 32, only one more than the magic figure of 31.
The TMP, after capturing the politically-important Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) in April 2021, has been demanding elevation of the areas of the autonomous body by granting a 'Greater Tipraland State' or a separate state status under Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution.
Besides the Congress and the CPI-M, Shah, Sarma, who is also the convener of the BJP-led North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), Tripura CM Manik Saha and other BJP leaders have rejected TMP's demands on a number of occasions.
Sarma, who is one of BJP's main strategists in the northeastern region, had recently said in Agartala that talks between the BJP and the TMP may resume but it should be under the constitutional framework, and not on the condition of dividing Tripura.
Sarma, who before the Assembly polls held several rounds of negotiations with the TMP supremo and former royal scion Deb Barman, said that talks can resume but "we cannot talk about Greater Tipraland State".
Political analyst and author Sekhar Datta termed Deb Barman's politics as "most opportunistic".
"What is the meaning and structure of Greater Tipraland State? He is yet to convince the people of Tripura about his demand. He is misleading the people, especially the tribals.
"The TMP somehow won 13 vital tribal reserve seats in the recent polls, but the party's success and survival in future is gripped with deep uncertainty as more than a dozen tribal-based parties have vanished in the past six decades in Tripura," Datta told IANS.
He said the most important Naga political settlement in Nagaland and separate state demand in various states are yet to be fulfilled even though the talks are going on for the past many decades.
"During the past six decades, many tribal parties have emerged but these have no ideology. According to our experience, over the years they become non-existent after their issues are resolved or when they raise such demands which are practically not possible to be fulfilled," Datta said.
The Left parties dominated by the CPI-M since 1952 have a strong base both among the tribals and the SC communities, for whom 10 Assembly seats are reserved in the 60-member assembly.
The CPI-M led Left Front, which governed Tripura for 35 years in two phases (1978 to 1988 and 1993 to 2018), won only 11 seats in the February 16 Assembly elections, while the Congress, which also governed the state for many years, bagged three.
The two national parties failed to secure a single seat out of the 20 tribal reserved seats this time even as the tribal areas were the Left's strongholds since 1952.
The CPI-M had secured only two tribal reserved seats in the 2018 Assembly polls, while the Congress has again drawn a blank after a similar show in 2018.
In the recent Assembly elections, the Left parties secured 26.80 per cent votes, TMP got over 20 per cent votes and the Congress, which contested the elections in seat sharing arrangement with the Left parties, managed 8.56 per cent votes.
The BJP secured 32 seats (38.97 per cent votes), four seats less than it 2018 tally, while its ally, the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT), bagged one seat (1.26 per cent votes), down by seven seats from the previous polls.
In the past over five-and-a-half decades, more than a dozen tribal based parties in Tripura have tried to play a crucial role in the state's politics, but due to their issue-based politics sans any ideology, they became non-existent after their issues were resolved or when they raised irrelevant demands.
In June 1967, the Tripura Upajati Juba Samity (TUJS) was formed as the first major tribal party, raising some tribal-centric demands including creation of the tribal autonomous body.
The party first got four seats in the 1978 elections and in 1988 it was an ally of the Congress, with both parties in alliance governing the state for five years before the CPI-M-led Left Front government returned to power after five years.
TMP's rapid success has caused a change in the political spectrum of Tripura.
All the parties in Tripura -- BJP, CPI-M, Congress and Trinamool Congress -- tried to forge a pre-poll alliance with TMP for the last Assembly polls with an eye on the 20 vital tribal seats, but TMP refused the proposals of these parties.
After the TMP in April 2021 captured the politically-important 30-member TTAADC, which has jurisdiction over two-third of Tripura's 10,491 sq km area and is home to over 12,16,000 people, the newly-formed party's importance in Tripura politics skyrocketed.
The TTAADC was formed in 1985 under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution to protect and safeguard the political, economic and cultural interests of the tribals.
Deb Barman, who was a close friend of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, was the President of Tripura Congress but quit the party in September 2019 over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) issues.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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