With the spotlight on the 20 tribal reserved seats, the ruling BJP and the opposition parties including the Left and the Congress, unlike the previous elections began their hectic preparations six months ahead of the polls to the 60-member Tripura assembly.
The Bharatiya Janata Party allied with its junior tribal based partner Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) in the 2018 assembly polls defeated the Communist Party of India-Marxist led Left parties, which governed the northeastern state for 35 years in two phases (1978-1988 and 1993-2018).
As the BJP considered the 2018 electoral victory one of the biggest political feats in India, the saffron party this time has plunged into the electoral battle much ahead of the assembly polls, expected to be held in February next year.
BJP president J.P. Nadda during his two-day visit to Tripura kicked-off the process of preparing the party for the election.
While the opposition parties including the Left, Congress and the Trinamool Congress also started their pre-poll preparations with all seriousness, the tribal based party TIPRA (Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance) turned into the key stakeholder as the new party became the main force in the tribal dominated areas.
Tribals constitute over one third of Tripura’s four million population and with 20 tribal reserved seats (in the 60-member assembly), the indigenous people played a very vital role in the electoral politics of Tripura.
When TIPRA, headed by Tripura’s former royal scion Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barman, scripted history in the northeastern state and wrested the TTAADC (Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council) in the April 6, 2021 elections, it became the fourth big political force after the Left, the Congress and the BJP in Tripura.
Highlighting their demand of “Greater Tipraland” (upliftment of tribals in Tripura and outside), the TIPRA defeated the CPI-M led Left Front, the BJP and the Congress in the elections to the TTAADC, which in terms of political significance is considered as a mini-legislative assembly after the Tripura Legislative Assembly.
Constituted in 1985 under the sixth schedule of the Constitution, the TTAADC has jurisdiction over two-thirds of Tripura’s 10,491 sq. km. area and is home to over 12,16,000 people, of which around 84 per cent are tribals, making the 30-member autonomous body the second important law making legislature after the Tripura assembly.
After the merger of the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT), one of the state’s oldest tribal based parties, last year with TIPRA, the latter got a further political boost to take on the other local and national parties.
Deb Barman while talking with IANS, said that his party TIPRA (locally known as ‘TIPRA Motha’) would not forge any pre-poll alliance with any political party and put up at least 40 candidates in the next assembly polls.
“My party shaped up through a series of movements with certain big and genuine causes of the indigenous tribals, these would not be diluted for a narrow political gain,” Deb Barman, who was the president of the Congress party in Tripura and quit the party in 2019 over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act issue.
He said that he would not personally contest the next assembly election but his party would continue to work for the all round development and welfare of the tribals.
Amidst the preparations for the elections, a fresh controversy erupted after the BJP brought around 300 bikes and 100 Scorpio cars to Tripura from Uttar Pradesh forcing the opposition parties including the CPI-M, Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Congress to demand a probe alleging that these vehicles would be utilised for various nefarious activities.
The TMC staged a series of protests in the state against the arrival of the 300 bikes and 100 Scorpio cars.
TMC’s Rajya Sabha member Sushmita Dev, who led these protests, said that it is already well known in the country that the “BJP’s Bike Bahini” (goons on bikes) has been unleashing a “jungle raj by uncontrollably attacking people and their properties” belonging to opposition party supporters.
“These hundreds of bikes and cars were brought to further strengthen the ferocious “Bike Bahini” ahead of the polls,” the TMC leader claimed.
CPI-M Tripura state secretary Jitendra Chowdhury in a letter to Tripura Chief Secretary J.K. Sinha said that the people of Tripura have witnessed the attacks of the bike-borne gangsters of the ruling BJP who carried on ransacking, looting, destruction and arson at innumerable numbers of houses of the opposition party supporters since the party came to power in March 2018.
“The bike-borne stormtroopers of the BJP left all the offices of the opposition parties ransacked and gutted. Some of the offices were attacked several times.”
Chowdhury said: “As the Assembly election is scheduled in February next year, the people of the state have reason to apprehend these bikes would be misused to suppress the voting rights of the people, particularly the opposition party supporters in the election.”
Tripura Pradesh Congress general secretary and spokesman Prashanta Bhattacharjee said that the party has drawn the attention of the high command to the 300 bikes procured by the BJP from Uttar Pradesh.
“We apprehend that these 300 bikes would be misused to undertake political violence against the Congress party in Tripura in the upcoming Assembly election. Since the BJP has no confidence in the voters, they will disturb the social and political harmony and would resort to violence before and during the elections,” Bhattacharjee told IANS.
Refuting the opposition parties’ allegations, the BJP said that around 100 bikes were procured for a statewide campaign by the party leaders and workers.
“These bikes will be used in the Vistarak Yojana Campaign of the party aimed at establishing direct contact with the people in the state. Partymen would take the BJP programme, mission and ideology to the doorstep of the people,” Tripura BJP’s spokesman Nabendu Bhattacharjee told IANS.
He said that the campaign would be conducted with a duration of one month to six months considering the size of the population and topography of an area.
Assembly elections to Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland are expected to be held in February after the assembly polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.