What Does BJP’s Tripura Ally, IPFT Really Stand For? 

Whether or not it sticks to its demand for ‘Twipraland’, the IPFT is bound to be a troublesome ally for the BJP. 

Published
Explainers
6 min read
Whether or not it sticks to its demand for ‘Twipraland’, the IPFT is bound to be a troublesome ally for the BJP. 
i
Snapshot

In the 46 years of its existence, the state of Tripura has never elected a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA. However on 3 March 2018, when the results of the assembly election trickled in, it was clear that the BJP’s strategy to build a party cadre from the ground up and ally with regional groups had worked. The BJP won 35 seats and its ally, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), won eight.

The alliance has gotten off to a rocky start.

Despite the IPFT’s demand for a tribal Chief Minister, the BJP that will comfortably maintain majority even without its ally, Biplab Deb, to lead the first non-Left government in the state. As the cabinet-formation begins, the IPFT has demanded “respectable posts”.

What is the future, past and present of the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura and why would the BJP, despite a comfortable majority without it, continue to tolerate a difficult ally?

The Quint explains.

What Does BJP’s Tripura Ally, IPFT Really Stand For? 

  1. 1. How the BJP-IPFT Alliance was Forged

    According to a report in the Times of India, Amit Shah gave the final approval to the alliance with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, despite misgivings in certain sections of the party. The proposal for a tie-up with the IPFT was strongly mooted by Assam leader Himanta Biswa Sarma, who along with the party general secretary Ram Madhav, emerged a key political strategist for the BJP in the north-east, the report said.

    Sarma had reportedly argued that while an alliance with the IPFT could provoke a backlash from Bengali voters, it was a risk worth taking if it could help undermine the CPM’s hold over a significant voter base. The report states despite concerns over the IPFT’s ability to deliver the tribal vote and the seat share agreement, Amit Shah decided that "a bold move to snatch the tribal vote and tap its perceived disenchantment with the Left was needed to beat a well-entrenched CPM government".

    Expand
  2. 2. BJP's Rationale Behind the Alliance

    Apart from regional tribal parties, the only other national party that had succeeded in consolidating the tribal vote was the CPI(M). Veteran party leader and the only tribal chief minister Tripura has had Dasarath Deb is credited for this voter base.

    Dasarath Deb formed the Ganamukti Parishad, that led an armed struggle against the royal house of Tripura that was reluctant to give up political control. This was between 1948-1950. In 1950, Deb, who had emerged as the leader of the Leftist uprising among tribals, joined the CPI(M). In 1993, he was appointed Chief Minister and served a five year term till his death in 1998.

    Till the 2013 assembly election, the CPI(M) had the unwavering support of the tribal areas, winning 19 of the 20 reserved seats. This was despite the Manik Sarkar government’s failure to provide even basic drinking water to the tribal regions and also because of the Congress’ failure to capitalise on the dissatisfaction among the people, that was credited to the party’s alliance with the Left at the Centre.

    For the BJP, the writing was on the wall. To win Tripura, it had to make inroads into the CPI(M)’s tribal voter base. In order to do so, RSS’ Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram ramped up its presence, the BJP appointed two state vice-presidents who were tribals and also retained DC Hrangkhawl as the leader of the opposition in the assembly after he moved to the BJP. Hrangkhawl, it must be noted, was among the six former Congress leaders who had moved to the Trinamool Congress and ultimately to the BJP in August 2017.

    The alliance with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, the BJP believed, would be the clincher.

    After a several rounds of discussions, the BJP and the IPFT formed an alliance to unitedly fight the ruling Left. As per the seat-sharing deal, the BJP contested in 51 seats, while the IPFT contested in nine reserved constituencies. Of these, the IPFT won eight – Simna, Mandwai Bazar, Takarjala, Ampinagar, Raima valley, Ramchandra Ghat, Asharam bari, and Kanchanpur. It lost the Manu seat to CPI(M)’s Pravat Chowdhury.

    Of the total 20 reserved seats, the Left, which previously held 19 seats, was able to win only two.

    Expand
  3. 3. Tripura's Historical Problem with Migrants

    The Partition of India and the Liberation of Bangladesh led to large scale migration that altered the demography of Tripura and impacted the political history of the state since the 1940s. Over the years, the predominantly tribal population became non-tribal. In 1901, the state government’s website notes, 53 percent of the population was tribal. In 2001, the Census notes, 31 percent of the state’s population were tribals.

    Tripura, being one of the last princely states to accede to India, was recognised only in 1971. The arrival of displaced persons after Partition and the 1971 war also resulted in the alienation of the tribal communities from their traditional rights on land and natural resources, and the transfer of tribal land to non-tribal farmers, reports Caravan magazine on the BJP’s foray into Tripura.

    The 2007 human-development report notes that a large number of tribal people were displaced from forest areas when, after Partition and the war, areas that were formerly set aside as tribal reserves were converted to refugee camps. 

    The report notes further that in 1978, the Left government initiated attempts to restore the land to the tribal communities. However, the tribal communities began to feel threatened with the growing influence of the Bengali migrants in different spheres of life

    In the backdrop of this ethnic tension, several tribal militant groups were formed in the 1960s and 1970s. To quell the demands for a separate state, the government created the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) in 1979. However, it wasn’t until 1984 that the Parliament enacted a constitutional amendment which granted the tribal regions of Tripura (about 2/3rd of the state) an autonomous status. The decision to grant autonomy to the TTAADC was met with resistance from the Bengali population, and even led to violent clashes between a tribal militant group called the Tripura National Volunteers (TNV) and a Bengali militant group called the Amra Bengali in the 1980s.

    The Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) emerged from this strife against the political, economic and social marginalisation of the tribals of Tripura.

    Expand
  4. 4. What Does the IPFT Stand For?

    The Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura originally existed between 1997 to 2001.

    In the 2000 assembly election, the IPFT made its political breakthrough by winning one seat in the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC). But, it could make no impact on the subsequent elections in 2003 and 2008, which led to a massive split in the party.

    Before the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the IPFT was revived under the leadership of former All India Radio Director NC Debbarma. Although it did not make any major gains in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, or even the the 2013 assembly elections, it did secure the second-highest number of votes in the 2015 elections to the TTAADC seats, but was unable to win a single one. Following the 2015 elections, the party split once more, with NC Debbarma retaining the faction that continued to call itself IPFT.

    While more indigenous tribal groups of Tripura demanded more autonomy from the state, the IPFT distinguished itself with the demand for a separate state ‘Twipraland’.

    In the run-up to the 2018 assembly elections, the IPFT re-defined itself with an aggressive campaign that included a two-week long blockade of the National Highway – the sole road link connecting the state to the rest of the country, leading to disruption in supply of essential commodities to the state.

    The blockade was lifted following a meeting with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and the Prime Minister’s Office. After the meeting, NC Debbarma assured his party men that “Twipraland would soon be a reality”.

    The assertion was staunchly rejected by Sunil Deodhar, the RSS man in charge of the Tripura election, who while releasing the common minimum program agreed upon by the BJP and the IPFT, said: “The IPFT will not raise the demand for Twipraland or a separate state... We have agreed to address the socio-economic, socio-cultural and linguistic concerns of the tribals in the state”.

    Expand
  5. 5. Replicating the Assam Model

    To win Tripura, the BJP replicated the Assam model that helped the party displace the 15-year-old Congress government. The party aligned with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodo People’s Front (BPF) with the aim to focus on the preservation of the identity of the indigenous people of Assam. In its election manifesto, the BJP focused on sorting out Clause 6 of the Assam Accord of 1985, that deals with the question of citizenship and assimilation of various groups, taking strict action against industries and businesses that employed infiltrators and working with the Centre to complete the sealing of the India-Bangladesh border.

    In 2011, Sarbananda Sonowal left the Asom Ghana Parishad (AGP) to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In projecting Sonowal as its leader, the BJP helped capitalise on his Assamese Nationalist image. A Member of Parliament from Assam’s Lakhimpur constituency, his return to Assam as Chief Minister in 2016 was seen as the return of the "prodigal son of the soil".

    A similar move was made by RSS pracharak Sunil Deodhar, who got Biplab Deb back to Tripura. Born and brought up in the state, Biplab Deb moved to Delhi to pursue higher studies. He returned to his home state after a 15 year long hiatus and joined the RSS under KN Govindacharya. He was instrumental in facilitating the key defections from the Congress to the BJP prior to the recently concluded assembly election. Seen as the “son of the soil”, Biplab Deb will take oath as Chief Minister of Tripura on Friday 9 March.

    (The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

    Expand

How the BJP-IPFT Alliance was Forged

According to a report in the Times of India, Amit Shah gave the final approval to the alliance with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, despite misgivings in certain sections of the party. The proposal for a tie-up with the IPFT was strongly mooted by Assam leader Himanta Biswa Sarma, who along with the party general secretary Ram Madhav, emerged a key political strategist for the BJP in the north-east, the report said.

Sarma had reportedly argued that while an alliance with the IPFT could provoke a backlash from Bengali voters, it was a risk worth taking if it could help undermine the CPM’s hold over a significant voter base. The report states despite concerns over the IPFT’s ability to deliver the tribal vote and the seat share agreement, Amit Shah decided that "a bold move to snatch the tribal vote and tap its perceived disenchantment with the Left was needed to beat a well-entrenched CPM government".

BJP's Rationale Behind the Alliance

Apart from regional tribal parties, the only other national party that had succeeded in consolidating the tribal vote was the CPI(M). Veteran party leader and the only tribal chief minister Tripura has had Dasarath Deb is credited for this voter base.

Dasarath Deb formed the Ganamukti Parishad, that led an armed struggle against the royal house of Tripura that was reluctant to give up political control. This was between 1948-1950. In 1950, Deb, who had emerged as the leader of the Leftist uprising among tribals, joined the CPI(M). In 1993, he was appointed Chief Minister and served a five year term till his death in 1998.

Till the 2013 assembly election, the CPI(M) had the unwavering support of the tribal areas, winning 19 of the 20 reserved seats. This was despite the Manik Sarkar government’s failure to provide even basic drinking water to the tribal regions and also because of the Congress’ failure to capitalise on the dissatisfaction among the people, that was credited to the party’s alliance with the Left at the Centre.

For the BJP, the writing was on the wall. To win Tripura, it had to make inroads into the CPI(M)’s tribal voter base. In order to do so, RSS’ Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram ramped up its presence, the BJP appointed two state vice-presidents who were tribals and also retained DC Hrangkhawl as the leader of the opposition in the assembly after he moved to the BJP. Hrangkhawl, it must be noted, was among the six former Congress leaders who had moved to the Trinamool Congress and ultimately to the BJP in August 2017.

The alliance with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, the BJP believed, would be the clincher.

After a several rounds of discussions, the BJP and the IPFT formed an alliance to unitedly fight the ruling Left. As per the seat-sharing deal, the BJP contested in 51 seats, while the IPFT contested in nine reserved constituencies. Of these, the IPFT won eight – Simna, Mandwai Bazar, Takarjala, Ampinagar, Raima valley, Ramchandra Ghat, Asharam bari, and Kanchanpur. It lost the Manu seat to CPI(M)’s Pravat Chowdhury.

Of the total 20 reserved seats, the Left, which previously held 19 seats, was able to win only two.

Tripura's Historical Problem with Migrants

The Partition of India and the Liberation of Bangladesh led to large scale migration that altered the demography of Tripura and impacted the political history of the state since the 1940s. Over the years, the predominantly tribal population became non-tribal. In 1901, the state government’s website notes, 53 percent of the population was tribal. In 2001, the Census notes, 31 percent of the state’s population were tribals.

Tripura, being one of the last princely states to accede to India, was recognised only in 1971. The arrival of displaced persons after Partition and the 1971 war also resulted in the alienation of the tribal communities from their traditional rights on land and natural resources, and the transfer of tribal land to non-tribal farmers, reports Caravan magazine on the BJP’s foray into Tripura.

The 2007 human-development report notes that a large number of tribal people were displaced from forest areas when, after Partition and the war, areas that were formerly set aside as tribal reserves were converted to refugee camps. 

The report notes further that in 1978, the Left government initiated attempts to restore the land to the tribal communities. However, the tribal communities began to feel threatened with the growing influence of the Bengali migrants in different spheres of life

In the backdrop of this ethnic tension, several tribal militant groups were formed in the 1960s and 1970s. To quell the demands for a separate state, the government created the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) in 1979. However, it wasn’t until 1984 that the Parliament enacted a constitutional amendment which granted the tribal regions of Tripura (about 2/3rd of the state) an autonomous status. The decision to grant autonomy to the TTAADC was met with resistance from the Bengali population, and even led to violent clashes between a tribal militant group called the Tripura National Volunteers (TNV) and a Bengali militant group called the Amra Bengali in the 1980s.

The Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) emerged from this strife against the political, economic and social marginalisation of the tribals of Tripura.

What Does the IPFT Stand For?

The Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura originally existed between 1997 to 2001.

In the 2000 assembly election, the IPFT made its political breakthrough by winning one seat in the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC). But, it could make no impact on the subsequent elections in 2003 and 2008, which led to a massive split in the party.

Before the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the IPFT was revived under the leadership of former All India Radio Director NC Debbarma. Although it did not make any major gains in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, or even the the 2013 assembly elections, it did secure the second-highest number of votes in the 2015 elections to the TTAADC seats, but was unable to win a single one. Following the 2015 elections, the party split once more, with NC Debbarma retaining the faction that continued to call itself IPFT.

While more indigenous tribal groups of Tripura demanded more autonomy from the state, the IPFT distinguished itself with the demand for a separate state ‘Twipraland’.

In the run-up to the 2018 assembly elections, the IPFT re-defined itself with an aggressive campaign that included a two-week long blockade of the National Highway – the sole road link connecting the state to the rest of the country, leading to disruption in supply of essential commodities to the state.

The blockade was lifted following a meeting with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and the Prime Minister’s Office. After the meeting, NC Debbarma assured his party men that “Twipraland would soon be a reality”.

The assertion was staunchly rejected by Sunil Deodhar, the RSS man in charge of the Tripura election, who while releasing the common minimum program agreed upon by the BJP and the IPFT, said: “The IPFT will not raise the demand for Twipraland or a separate state... We have agreed to address the socio-economic, socio-cultural and linguistic concerns of the tribals in the state”.

Replicating the Assam Model

To win Tripura, the BJP replicated the Assam model that helped the party displace the 15-year-old Congress government. The party aligned with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodo People’s Front (BPF) with the aim to focus on the preservation of the identity of the indigenous people of Assam. In its election manifesto, the BJP focused on sorting out Clause 6 of the Assam Accord of 1985, that deals with the question of citizenship and assimilation of various groups, taking strict action against industries and businesses that employed infiltrators and working with the Centre to complete the sealing of the India-Bangladesh border.

In 2011, Sarbananda Sonowal left the Asom Ghana Parishad (AGP) to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In projecting Sonowal as its leader, the BJP helped capitalise on his Assamese Nationalist image. A Member of Parliament from Assam’s Lakhimpur constituency, his return to Assam as Chief Minister in 2016 was seen as the return of the "prodigal son of the soil".

A similar move was made by RSS pracharak Sunil Deodhar, who got Biplab Deb back to Tripura. Born and brought up in the state, Biplab Deb moved to Delhi to pursue higher studies. He returned to his home state after a 15 year long hiatus and joined the RSS under KN Govindacharya. He was instrumental in facilitating the key defections from the Congress to the BJP prior to the recently concluded assembly election. Seen as the “son of the soil”, Biplab Deb will take oath as Chief Minister of Tripura on Friday 9 March.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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