April 04, 2021

TRIPURA: BJP, Allies Push Divisive Issues in Tribal Council Elections

Haripada Das

CAMPAIGN for the April 6 Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) elections is going on in full swing. Though the BJP-led government was in favour of running the council through an administrator, it was compelled to hold election following a high court order. Left Front leaders, in their campaign, have been highlighting the sincere and commendable performance of the Left-controlled ADC Council despite total noncooperation of the state government, particularly in providing relief to the destitute people during the coronavirus-induced lockdown. At one point, the ruling party tried to purchase the ADC members to dislodge the Left Council from the ADC. The Left Front leaders are promising development of infrastructure in the tribal areas, economic upliftment of the hilly people, improvement of communication, housing, education, health service, providing work for the impoverished tribal people, ensuring food security and, more importantly, implementation of the Forest Right Act, protection and enrichment of the tribal language and culture, etc. But, surpassing all these core issues, what has come to the fore during the campaign is whether democracy will persist, whether the traditional ethnic harmony and cohabitation of tribal and non-tribal populations would continue, whether the integrity of the state would be protected, whether the solidarity with the neighbouring states would be maintained, whether the democratic values and ethics would be adhered to.

The Indigenous Peoples Front of Twipra (IPFT) is a smaller partner of the BJP-led alliance government. The IPFT’s main motto is creation of a separate Twipraland cutting apart two-thirds of the existing territory of the tiny state. This slogan could misguide a bigger section of tribal youth and had given them much dividend in the 2018 assembly elections. Though overtly the BJP does not subscribe to the demand of a separate Twipraland, it finds no problem in running a coalition government for the last three years with the IPFT which continues to propagate this provocative issue. 

As the BJP has not yet made any breakthrough among the tribal people organisationally, the IPFT has become indispensable to it. On the other hand, IPFT without seat-sharing with any leading party, has hardly any chance to get a berth in the cabinet. So, the mutual compulsion kept both the parties bonded together discarding minimum decency in respect of principles and ethics. This compulsion forced them to fight the ADC election together amid tremendous bickering over sharing of seats. Still both the partners have to contest one another in three ADC seats.

Pradyut Kishore Debbarma, the grandson of last king of the state, floated a party in the name ‘TIPRA’ (Tripura Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance) about two months back and made a call for an all-in-unity of tribal people to create a ‘Greater Twipraland’ with parts of Assam, Manipur and even some parts of Chittagong hill tracks of Bangladesh. The IPFT, a smaller partner of the alliance government shared a joint press meet with TIPRA which declared that the ‘Greater Twipraland’ would be the main agenda in the ensuing ADC election. Initially, the TIPRA could garner a grand alliance with IPFT, INPT and TSP (Twipraland State Party). But the IPFT had ultimately broken out the knot and came back to its alliance with BJP when the latter threatened them to quit the cabinet berth. Conspicuously, neither Pradyut Kishore Debbarman nor chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb nails each other in their election campaign. While the former has been arguing for ‘Greater Twipraland’ as the only panacea for the emancipation of the tribals, the latter made the Left Front responsible for the present plight of the tribals of the state. 

The Left Front termed this ‘Greater Twipraland’ as greater jumla as that of the ‘Vision Document’ published by the BJP prior to the 2018 assembly elections. The Left Front said that no rational thinking people would subscribe to such an absurd concept which may lead to ethnic distrust, communal passion and even pose a threat to the territorial integrity of the state and vitiate the relations with the neighbouring states and country. This is a hidden agenda of BJP and TIPRA to divert people’s attention from utter failure of the government to perform to serve the tribal people and the real issues that the tribal people have been facing since 2018. Being starved of any acceptable issue against the Left Front, TIPRA leader Pradyut Kumar Debbarman is trying to cash in on the common people’s innocent loyalty to the royal family by propagating tribal chauvinism to serve the ruling BJP.

Left Front leaders, including Manik Sarkar, Bijan Dhar, Aghore Debbarma, Jitendra Chowdhury, Badal Chowdhury, Tapan Chakraborty and Gautam Das, have been campaigning relentlessly. Impressive mass rallies, decorative processions are being organised in most of the ADC constituencies with bigger participation of the masses. In many places, the Left Front rallies and processions surpassed those of the ruling parties in mass participation and militancy. 

Rubbishing the BJP’s 27-point election manifesto, chief executive member of the outgoing ADC Council Radhacharan Debbarma, in a press meet on March 29, said this was another deception as that of the 299-point jumla of ‘Vision Document’ they dished out to the people in 2018. This proves that the BJP leaders are quite ignorant about the problems of the ADC. Many promises mentioned in their manifesto have already been solved by the outgoing Council and many others are lying with the government for approval. Left Front convener Bijan Dhar and CPI(M) state secretary Gautam Das, in separate letters, urged the State Election Commissioner to take several measures before the poll and the measures on the poll day for the sake of defending the right to franchise of the electors and thereby protecting sanctity of democracy in the ensuing ADC elections. Democratic-minded, peace-loving people of the state are eagerly waiting to see whether the Election Commission and the state administration would take pro-active measures to protect in this election the tribal people’s constitutional right to franchise that the BJP-led alliance government denied in all the elections held under its rule.