Barely four days before polling for the Tripura Assembly elections, an interesting development took place - TIPRA Motha founder Pradyot Manikya Deb Barma addressed a rally in support of Independent candidate Purushuttam Roy Barman in Agartala's Ramnagar constituency on Sunday.
Purushuttam Roy Barman is part of the CPM-led Secular Democratic Forces, that includes the Congress. Despite negotiations, the SDF and TIPRA failed to arrive at a pre-poll alliance. However, the TIPRA Motha leader's presence at an SDF rally in the final days of campaigning does send a sign that there is still some understanding between the two Opposition entities.
Incidentally on the same day, Union Home Minister Amit Shah addressed warned voters of 'triple trouble' - that is the Left, Congress and TIPRA Motha - while addressing a rally in the state.
Clearly, even the BJP is sensing a certain co-ordination between Opposition parties.
But is this 'co-ordination' only restricted to Ramnagar or is there more to it?
There are two aspects to this.
1. The Candidate
Purushuttam Roy Barman is a known figure in Tripura's civil society. A senior advocate, he also heads the Tripura Human Rights Organisation and has been speaking up on a variety of issues such as mob lynchings, political violence and misuse of government machinery.
This has put him on the wrong side of the BJP administration on a number of occasions. He enjoys support across the political spectrum, therefore, it is not surprising to see the Left, Congress and TIPRA Motha backing him on the seat.
However, he is facing a tough battle against veteran leader Surajit Datta, who has won from the constituency six times - five times on a Congress ticket and from the BJP in 2018.
Roy Barman is a convenient candidate for the alliance. Had the Left put up a candidate, it could have pushed committed Congress workers towards Dutta, a former Congress stalwart.
2. The Context
There is a larger context to the coordination in Ramnagar and this is the perception that the BJP is bulldozing its way in this election, riding on its resources and cadre power.
There is a great deal of fear among people who are critical of the BJP regime. The Opposition unity behind a vocal critic of the BJP regime like Purushuttam Roy Barman is a way to instil some confidence among anti-BJP voters.
In Ramnagar itself, an FIR has been filed against an Agartala Municipal Corporation corporator Abhishek Datta for allegedly trying to intimidate Sushmita Pal, a junior of Purushuttam Roy Barman, with a pistol. Abhishek Datta is the nephew of BJP candidate Surajit Datta.
An inquiry has been ordered in the matter by the Election Commission officials.
But Will it Work?
This is difficult to say. Ramnagar doesn't have a very high tribal population so TIPRA Motha's support may not help Purushuttam Roy Barman much. But it can have an impact in neighbouring seats in Agartala where there are comparatively more tribal voters. TIPRA Motha has not fielded candidates in many of these seats.
TIPRA Motha is no doubt rising among the indigenous tribal voters. Though Pradyot Manikya Deb Barma has been saying that his party and its promise of Greater Tipraland is for all communities, the plank is being used by the BJP to scare Bengali voters that it is an attempt to divide Tripura.
Therefore, if the TIPRA Motha and the Left-Congress alliance are seen as having some sort of an understanding, it can work both ways. While it can lead to the transfer of some of TIPRA Motha's tribal voters living in non-tribal areas to Left-Congress candidates, the BJP's anti-Motha attacks are an attempt to consolidate Bengali votes.
Then there is also an organisational aspect. The BJP-IPFT alliance's organisational dominance is comparatively less in tribal areas and the Motha is being able to pushback. However, the situation is different in non-tribal areas and in many places Left-Congress candidates aren't finding it easy to campaign due to BJP's organisational dominance and also a fear factor.