New CM just one message of Tripura reshuffle; BJP reaches out to tribals

WHILE all eyes were on the surprise shake-up within the BJP bringing Manik Saha in as the new Tripura Chief Minister, and the tremors that followed the move, that isn’t the only political change of significance to have transpired in the state.

Unsure about the tribal vote, and the rising TIPRA Motha outfit, the BJP has taken several steps towards wooing them back in the new Cabinet. The state has at least 19 tribes of significance, including particularly vulnerable tribes.

The new Tripura Cabinet includes Deputy CM Jishnu Devvarma, Rampada Jamatia, Prem Kumar Reang, N C Debbarma and Santana Chakma, among the tribal faces. Jamatia wields major influence in the Jamatia Hoda, the customary body of the Jamatia community, and is popular among tribals of other clans. Reang, an MLA of BJP ally Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), hails from the particularly vulnerable tribe of Reangs. Devvarma, a member of the Tripura royal family, continues as Deputy CM, Debbarma is the head of the IPFT, which the BJP has been trying to keep by its side, while Santana Chakma is a popular face among the ethnic Chakmas.

The IPFT has been feeling threatened by the rise of the TIPRA Motha party. Formed by Pradyot Kishore Manik Debbarma, the head of the Tripura royal family, as an association of smaller tribal outfits of the state, the TIPRA Motha had swept the tribal council polls last year.

The Motha has been raising questions about the non-fulfilment of demands related to tribals, putting pressure on the IPFT that had joined the BJP amid much fanfare ahead of the 2018 Assembly elections, helping it climb to power. The TIPRA Motha has warned it will contest 35 Assembly seats in next year’s elections, including 20 ST reserved seats and 15 general seats, where tribal voters hold dominant influence.

One of the major sticking points with tribal outfits is that the state hasn’t had a tribal chief minister since Dasharath Dev headed a Left government in 1993-98. After Biplab Deb’s sudden resignation as CM on Saturday, the initial speculation was that the BJP might pick a tribal leader as his replacement.

Apart from TIPRA Motha, the BJP is also wary of the damage that might be caused to it by senior leader Sudip Roy Barman who left the party following differences with Biplab Deb this year and is now in the Congress. He wields enough clout to hurt the BJP among tribals.

The Trinamool Congress, which is making a fresh push in Tripura, has sent a warning with its 16%-plus vote share in the civic polls held last year, with a preparation time of just two-three months.

The induction of the tribal ministers might also be an attempt by the BJP to contain the damage from a recent statement by party state vice-president Patal Kanya Jamatia that demands such as a separate state for tribals – like by the TIPRA Motha – are “small dreams”.

Apart from the new ministers, the BJP made another recent change when it reorganised its tribal frontal wing Janajati Morcha, replacing Lok Sabha MP Rebati Tripura with tribal leader Bikash Debbarma as the chief.

TIPRA Motha chief Pradyot Debbarma said he wasn’t surprised at Deb being removed. Claiming that it wasn’t end of the BJP’s problems, he predicted more fissures in the party in the days ahead.

Biplab Deb has been saying he was removed as CM as the leadership wanted him to work for the party. “The party organisation is trying to bring in responsible workers. The government can only sustain if there is a party organisation in place. Karyakartas like me should work for the party and the BJP will benefit from this.”

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