BJP Staves Off Trinamool-Triggered Crisis In Tripura For Now, But Threat To Government Remains

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Jun 17, 2021 11:04 AM
BJP Staves Off Trinamool-Triggered Crisis In Tripura For Now, But Threat To Government RemainsTripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb facing internal dissent.
Snapshot
  • The crisis that the BJP in Tripura was staring at may have been resolved for now, but as long as the underlying causes for dissatisfaction remain, dissidence will continue to rear its head.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to have averted a threat to its government in Tripura engineered by Trinamool Congress for now, but the danger still lurks in the shadows.

A resurgent Trinamool, which is now keen on expanding its footprint beyond Bengal’s borders, fuelled latent dissension in the BJP’s ranks in Tripura since last week.

At least five MLAs, including the heavyweight former health minister Sudip Roy Barman, were rumoured to have been approached by Mukul Roy, who switched over from the BJP to the Trinamool last Friday (11 June). Mukul Roy and Roy Barman have known each other for the past few years.

An alarmed BJP central leadership sent the national general secretary (organisation) B L Santhosh, BJP North-East zonal secretary Ajay Jamwal and Assam BJP general secretary Phanindranath Sarma (he also oversees party affairs in Tripura) to Agartala on Wednesday morning.

The three held back-to-back meetings with Chief Minister Biplab Deb, ministers, MLAs and office-bearers of the party as well as its frontal organisations throughout the day.

The five disgruntled MLAs — Sudip Roy Barman, Ashish Das, Ashish Saha, D C Hrangkhawal and Burba Mohan Tripura — met Santhosh and the three others separately.

Senior BJP leaders told Swarajya over phone from Agartala that the crisis has been resolved and the five MLAs have been assured that their grievances will be addressed.

The five were also assured that while Deb will consult them on all important matters, they will also be given their due within the party.

But this seems to be a temporary truce. Roy Barman will not be content playing second fiddle to Deb, who he considers unworthy of the chief minister’s post.

That Roy Barman has not been fully placated is evident from the fact that he has declined the offer of being taken back into the state cabinet.

It is only a matter of time, say political observers, before Roy Barman starts his machinations to engineer a split in the BJP legislature party.

Though the BJP-led coalition government in the state looks unassailable with more than two-third majority in the 60 member house (the ruling alliance has 44 MLAs), cracks have developed between the BJP and ally Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT), which has eight MLAs.

Senior Trinamool leaders in Kolkata told Swarajya that if Roy Barman can get the support of at least 11 BJP MLAs (apart from himself) and muster the support of the IPFT as well, the Deb government will be reduced to a minority and would fall.

Mukul Roy, who the Trinamool leadership believes is adept at such games, has been given the task of fuelling dissent within the BJP in Tripura with the aim of bringing down the Deb government.

Mukul Roy, who was responsible for Trinamool’s outreach in the North East when he was the number two in that party, was instrumental in bringing in Roy Barman and five other MLAs from the Congress to the Trinamool in 2016.

After Mukul Roy joined the BJP in 2017, he engineered the defection of the six Tripura legislators in Tripura to the BJP.

Assembly elections in Tripura were held in February 2018 and the BJP won 36 seats in the 60-member house while its ally, the IPFT won eight seats.

All the six legislators who joined the BJP from the Trinamool retained their seats in the 2018 elections and Roy Barman, whose father Samir Ranjan Barman was once the chief minister of Tripura, was made the Health Minister.

But Roy Barman was not happy with being only a cabinet minister and felt he deserved the Chief Minister’s post.

Having been in active politics since his student days, the 55-year-old Roy Barman has been an MLA for five terms since 1998.

Chief Minister Deb is a novice compared to Roy Barman, and that has constantly rankled the latter. Roy Barman believed he should have been made the chief minister instead of Deb.

An unhappy and ambitious Roy Barman had been criticising Deb and snapping at his heels. Ultimately, on 31 May 2019, Deb sacked him from the ministry.

Since then, a disgruntled Roy Barman has been leading the dissidence against Deb. In October last year, Roy Barman led his group of five MLAs to New Delhi to meet the BJP central leaders and demand Deb’s removal.

The rebel MLAs had intended to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP national president J P Nadda.

But they got to meet only party national general secretary (organisation) B L Santhosh, who told them there is no way that Deb will be replaced and they will have to work under Deb’s leadership.

The disgruntled legislators were also advised to work for the party and not expect immediate rewards.

Since then, Roy Barman and his group have been unhappy and have been looking for an opportunity to rock the BJP’s boat in Tripura.

That opportunity presented itself when Mukul Roy returned to the Trinamool from the BJP last week.

Roy Barman had, in fact, been in touch with Mukul Roy ever since the Trinamool posted a landslide victory in Bengal.

The two are believed to have spoken to each other a few times. After Mukul Roy’s ghar wapsi, Roy Barman reached out to some BJP MLAs and office-bearers outside his coterie and tried to fuel dissent against Deb.

The BJP leadership got to know about this and was rightly alarmed. More so, since apart from the group of six disgruntled MLAs led by Roy Barman, a few other BJP MLAs and senior leaders also appeared to be deeply unhappy with Deb and his style of functioning.

Many are unhappy with Deb’s allegedly authoritarian ways. A common complaint against Deb is that he has concentrated all powers and given bureaucrats a free run.

“Ministers have been reduced to mere showpieces and have no powers. Everything is run by the Chief Minister through bureaucrats. Even in organisational matters, all powers rest with Biplab Deb,” a senior office-bearer of the party told Swarajya from Agartala.

Yet another grouse among BJP legislators and office-bearers is that Deb has been giving too much importance to defectors from the Communist Party of India-Marxist (to the BJP).

These defectors (from the CPI-M) who joined the BJP after the 2018 assembly elections have been given charge of frontal organisations and made important office-bearers, ignoring the claims of senior and veteran BJP workers.

Deb also made a former Congressman and a political lightweight, Manik Saha, the state party president. Deb’s detractors say Saha was made the state party chief so that the chief minister would have the party organisation under his thumb.

Many BJP MLAs and senior office-bearers have also been alleging in private that chief minister Deb has built a coterie of corrupt businessmen who have been cornering major government contracts.

The Trinamool, which declared its intention to expand beyond Bengal after it won the assembly polls in the state, will naturally fish in Tripura’s troubled waters.

The crisis that the BJP in Tripura was staring at may have been resolved for now, but as long as the underlying causes for dissatisfaction remain, dissidence will continue to rear its head.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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