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BJP 2.0 in Tripura: CM Manik Saha & Co Mustn’t Let Factional Politics Deter Them

Running a thin majority government isn’t going to be an easy task for the Saha-led Bharatiya Janata Party

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On 8 March, Chief Minister Manik Saha led-Bharatiya Janata Party government took oath in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Party President JP Nadda, Assam Chief Minister, North East Democratic Alliance convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma and other dignitaries. Eight ministers, including four new ones, took oath while 3 posts are left vacant giving rise to many speculations.

Snapshot
  • Manik Saha who joined the BJP in 2016, was chosen the chief minister of the state last year by replacing the then chief minister Biplab Deb Saha.

  • Factionalism has always been a worry for the saffron party leadership. This was one of the reasons why Pratima was fielded, despite Amit Shah's announcement that the battle would be fought under Saha.

  • Pratima Bhowmick resigned from her Dhanpur seat by submitting a formal letter to the pro tem speaker Binoy Bhushan Das.

  • Running a thin majority government isn’t going to be an easy task for the Saha-led BJP.

  • Three vacant posts are left to accommodate Motha, which has now shown softness towards the BJP

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Why Did the BJP Choose Manik Saha Again?

Manik Saha who joined the BJP in 2016, was chosen the chief minister of the state last year by replacing the then chief minister Biplab Deb Saha at that time was holding the post of state president — he was nominated to the post in 2020. Before being appointed as the chief minister, he was known as a loyalist of Biplab Deb.

However, in the last eight months, Manik has been able to carve a niche for himself. Manik, a soft-spoken man, has been a no-nonsense chief minister with no controversies. He is seen as an honest one. It is this perception that gives him an edge.

There were other contenders for the post of chief minister — Biplab Deb, union minister Pratima Bhowmik and Rajib Bhattacharjee, the present state party president. For the time being, Deb, presently a member of the Rajya Sabha, was kept out of the race as he was not nominated this time by the party in his constituency Banamalipur, although he has been trying his best to once again occupy the post. This time Rajib was nominated in this constituency but surprisingly he lost to Congress’s Gopal Chandra Das, who himself was quite not sure about his victory at the beginning of the election campaign.

Factionalism has always been a worry for the saffron party leadership. This was one of the reasons why Pratima was fielded, despite the fact that Amit Shah as early as January had announced that the battle would be fought under the leadership of Saha — and this was more clearly expressed by the central leadership during the election campaign. In this way, she was also kept in good humour.
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Apart from that she was fielded to intensify the campaign by softly projecting the women’s card. Also, she was nominated in case Saha loses his seat — and interestingly Saha defeated his rival Ashish Saha of Congress by a slim margin of only 1257 votes.

Today, Pratima resigned from her Dhanpur seat by submitting a formal letter to the pro tem speaker Binoy Bhushan Das. She lobbied for the chief minister’s post but the central leadership didn’t agree. She wasn’t made the deputy chief minister of the state.

Speculations are rife that the party may field Jishnu Dev Verma, the party’s tribal face and the deputy chief minister in the last government from the Dhanpur seat. What can be seen as an embarrassment to the party, is Jishnu, who held the important finance portfolio, lost from his Charilam seat to TIPRA Motha’s Subodh Debbarma.

Omission and Additions

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The four ministers who have been retained in the new cabinet are Ratan Lal Nath, Pranajit Singha Roy, Sushanta Choudhury and Santana Chakma, who is the lone woman and minority representative in the cabinet.

The new faces are Tinku Rai, who won from CPM’s longtime bastion Chandipur and is considered a favourite of central leadership, Sudhangshu Das, Bikash Debbarma, president of the party’s Scheduled Tribe Morcha state unit, and Shuklacharan Noatia, who is the IPFT’s lone representative in the cabinet.

Nath, who was the education minister, is given the charge of power and agriculture and farmers' welfare. The finance ministry is given to Pranajit Singha Roy. Sushanta is now given charge of food, civil supplies, consumer affairs, transport, and tourism.

OBC Welfare is given to Santana while the charge of the welfare of minorities is given to Noatia. The charge of tribal welfare is given to Bikash while the charge of the welfare of scheduled castes is given to Sudhanshu.

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However, the non-inclusion of Rampada Jamatia who became the minister last time when Saha became chief minister, is intriguing. When prominent tribal faces like Jishnu, and party vice-president Patal Kanya Jamatia lost elections, Rampada won from the Bagma seat (ST) by defeating Motha’s Purna Chandra Jamatia, who is also the Chief Executive Member (CEM) of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC).

He has associations with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. In the last Saha-led cabinet, he was the tribal welfare minister. In the last BJP government, there was no representative from the South Tripura district. This time finally, it has gotten a minister — Shuklacharan Noatia. Out of 7 seats, BJP-led NDA won 4 while 3 were secured by CPM.

What Do the 3 Vacant Posts Indicate?

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These vacant posts are left to accommodate Motha, which has now shown softness towards the BJP. Pradyot said that if his demand for a constitutional solution for the tribals is met, then he will have to think about joining the cabinet.

There are no ministers from Sipahijala and Dhalai districts. One of the significant faces not included is Kishore Barman, who won from the Nalchar seat of the Sipahijala district. Barman played a crucial role in expanding the saffron party’s base in North Bengal.

Saha has kept some key portfolios — like home, health and family welfare, education, public works department, revenue, and rural development — with him. This seems to be a temporary arrangement as managing all these ministries that too by the chief minister himself is going to hamper the functioning of these ministries.

Running a Thin Majority Government and Factionalism Worry Saha-Led BJP

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True that the Modi factor has saved the government but it is also true that Motha played a crucial role in bringing back the saffron party to power. The fact is that this time the BJP-IPFT returned to power with a reduced vote share and its strength in the state assembly has dropped to 33 from 44.

Running a thin majority government isn’t going to be an easy task for the Saha-led BJP. Also, there is the challenge of factionalism which has been a major cause of worry for the saffron party.

It is this factionalism due to which party state president Rajib himself lost from a safe constituency like Banamalipur. Not only this, but the thin margin victory of Saha is also an indicator that there might have been some sabotaging in his constituency too.
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Not everyone in the party likes to see him as the chief minister and this time too even after the results, there were attempts to remove him but the central leadership, for the time being, didn’t entertain those views. It remains to be seen how the party handles factionalism in the near future.

(Sagarneel Sinha is a political commentator and tweets @SagarneelSinha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for his reported views.)

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Topics:  Tripura politics   Manik Saha 

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