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Tripura Polls & TIPRA Motha: How Party Lends an 'X Factor' To Battle Against BJP

As Motha— the tribal party has grown by eating into IPFT’s votes, it's likely for it to harm the BJP-IPFT alliance.

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This time in the Northeastern state of Tripura which is going to polls on 16 February, there is a major force that can turn the tide — TIPRA Motha of the royal scion Pradyot Debbarma.

The state has 20 seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribes but the Motha which is currently heading the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC), is contesting 42 seats.

Some of the prominent candidates include TTAADC Chief Executive Member (CEM) Purna Chandra Jamatia in Bagma (ST), deputy CEM of TTAADC Animesh Debbabrma in Asharambari (ST), former IPFT MLA Brishaketu Debbarma in Simna (ST) and former TTAADC Opposition leader and ex-BJP leader Hangsha Kumar Tripura in Chawmanu (ST).

It has also given tickets to six women candidates including Nandita Debbarma Reang in Karbook (ST), Meri Debbarma in Kamalpur and Swapna Debbarma in Mandaibazar (ST).

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Party's Outreach to All Communities & Not Just Tribals

Though a section is trying to brand TIPRA Motha as only a 'tribal-based' party, it is actually different from other tribal-based parties of the state. This party has been trying to build a base among all sections. That’s why it has given tickets to candidates in 22 non-ST seats and the candidates include Bengalis, Bishnupriya Manipuris, and Muslims. It has given tickets to nine Bengali candidates including Scheduled Caste.

One of the most prominent Bengali candidates is former senior Congress leader Tapas Dey in Mohanpur constituency of West Tripura who was elected to the state assembly from Salgara constituency in 1972 elections. He is contesting against BJP’s Ratan Lal Nath, the state’s education minister.

The then-state Congress Vice-President Dey resigned from the grand old party in 2021 to join Tripura Democratic Front (TDF) but last year, he joined Motha which appointed him the convenor of the Tripura Citizens Forum, formed by the party to reach out to the non-tribals of the state.
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In the Teliamura constituency, Motha has fielded Abhijit Sarkar, son of former state minister and intellectual Anil Sarkar who was CPI(M)’s tallest Dalit leader from the state. Some other Bengali candidates include former BJP MLA Ashish Das in Kamalasagar, Abhijit Malakar who earlier was in Congress in Rajnagar (SC) constituency, former BJP leader Samir Basu in Majlishpur and former Left student and youth leader Shyamal Sarkar in Surma(SC). In the bypolls held last year, Motha supported by Congress, came second in Surma seat after BJP’s Swapna Das Pal.

The tribal-focussed party has also given tickets to two candidates from the Bishnupriya Manipuri community, an ethnic minority practising Vaishnavism. In the Chandipur constituency of Unakoti, it has nominated Ranjan Sinha, a former member of BJP’s state committee who joined Motha after he was denied a ticket by the saffron party. He had joined the saffron party in 2001 and was also the Unakoti district BJP president for seven years.

In the last state election, his wife Kaberi Sinha contested as a BJP candidate and lost to the then-state minister and senior CPM leader Tapan Chakraborty by a small margin.

In this constituency where Bishnupriya Manipuris are one of the influential voters, Sinha is pitted against BJP’s Tinku Roy and CPM’s Krishnendu Chaudhury from the Left-Congress alliance. Motha’s other Bishnupriya Manipuri candidate is Kalpana Sinha from Bagbassa of North Tripura. Kalpana was earlier the state youth Congress general secretary.  

The party has also given candidates in some constituencies where Muslims are concentrated like Boxanagar, Bagbassa, Dhanpur, Kakraban-Salgarh and Bishalgarh. The Muslim candidates include Shah Alam Miah in Bishalgarh and Abu Khayer Miah in Boxanagar.

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Is Motha Soft on Greater Tipraland?

Motha currently is the dominant party in the tribal belt where royal scion Pradyot Debbarma has been a very popular face. The party’s slogan for Greater Tipraland has been popular in the belt. It has almost eaten into the base of BJP’s ally Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) which is now almost reduced to a small player in the tribal region.

Although what exactly Greater Tripraland means remains unclear, the statements of Pradyot do indicate that the demand is unlikely to change the integration of the state. He repeatedly has made it clear that he wants a permanent constitutional solution for the indigenous people of the state — which is also in the party manifesto under the heading 'Greater Tipraland'.

Although the Motha has claimed that it will be able to gain majority on its own, it has chances to emerge as a kingmaker as there is a probability of a hung assembly this time. Most importantly, Pradyot has kept the doors open for a post-poll alliance with both BJP and Left-Congress. He said that his party will ally with any party which supports the permanent constitutional solution for the indigenous people.

The party has also promised to empower TTAADC through increase in allocation of budget, maintenance of law and order, 20,000 fresh jobs and employment opportunities both in government and private sectors, provide land patta to those deprived to set up a Tribal University, Agriculture University, Sports University and a Buddhist University and conduct the pending TTAADC Village Council polls.

It has also promised to ensure doorstep delivery of government schemes and action plans to attain zero poverty, zero corruption, zero drugs, and zero school dropouts. The party has promised to fulfil the claims of its Vision Document within 150 days of coming into power.

Will TIPRA Motha benefit the BJP by eating into the anti-BJP votes?

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In the state, there are 35 constituencies where the ST population is more than 20%. Out of these, the ST population is more than 50% in 17 seats — and all of these are ST-reserved constituencies. Apart from these seats, there are 10 seats where the tribal population is between 10 to 19%. In the remaining 15 seats, tribal votes are less than 10%. This shows the significance of tribal votes in this Bengali-majority Northeastern state.

Apart from the 20 ST-reserved seats, Motha’s chances are weak in the other 22 seats — barring only a few ones. But there is a probability that it is likely to eat into the anti-BJP votes in many seats — even where its chances are weak. Not only this, Motha has also given candidates in some Muslim-dominated seats too. All these have been a cause of worry for the Left-Congress alliance which has been formed to bring the anti-BJP votes together.

But there is another side of the story. As the Motha has grown by eating into IPFT’s votes, it is very likely that the former is going to harm the BJP-IPFT alliance. Importantly, Motha hasn’t put any candidate against CPM State Secretary Jitendra Chaudhury in Sabroom where tribal votes account for 31%. It has not given a candidate against senior Congress leader Sudip Roy Barman in Agartala where tribal votes account for 14%
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There Are Challenges for Motha Too

True that Motha is a challenger for both BJP and Left-Congress alliance, however, it has its fair share of challenges. In the tribal belt, many workers and supporters of the Gana Mukti Parishad (GMP)—CPM’s tribal wing, have also contributed to the rise of the Motha at the ground level. That was the time when the GMP was too weak after the CPM lost power in the 2018 state elections.

But now with CPM rejuvenating itself with new faces and a tribal leader Jitendra Chaudhury at the top, the ground-level Left workers and supporters have gotten a new boost. This may affect Motha’s prospects in some seats, particularly more in those seats where its chances appear bleak.

Given the history of the quick rise and fall of the tribal parties of the state, TIPRA Motha faces a key challenge to keep itself relevant in the state’s politics. To remain relevant, Motha has to try something different.

Pradyot knows that there is pressure and that’s why he has decided for his party to contest alone in 42 seats to build a base outside its strongholds. This strategy is quite different from the tribal-based parties of the state — Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti (TUJS), Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra (INPT), Tripura Hills People Party (THPP), Tripura National Volunteers (TNV), Nationalist Socialist Party of Tripura (NSPT), National Conference of Tripura (NCT) and IPFT.

These parties didn’t try to build a base outside their tribal strongholds and often had preferred to ally with the national parties in the state. No doubt, this election is crucial for TIPRA Motha but it has to fight another crucial battle after the elections which will be against the historical past of the other tribal parties. And if it doesn’t play the right cards at the right time, it is likely to meet the fate of TUJS, INPT and IPFT.

(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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