Tripura: How Senior BJP Leadership Initiated Talks With Tipra Motha Immediately After Swearing-In Of New Government

Tripura: How Senior BJP Leadership Initiated Talks With Tipra Motha Immediately After Swearing-In Of New Government

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Thursday, March 9, 2023 02:36 PM IST
Tripura: How Senior BJP Leadership Initiated Talks With Tipra Motha Immediately After Swearing-In Of New GovernmentHome Minister Amit Shah and Tipra Motha chief Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barma.
  • It's BJP's faith in inclusive development that made its leaders reach out to political adversaries, and strike a chord with Motha’s top leadership.

Tripura witnessed significant political developments on Wednesday (8 March) with the tribal Tipra Motha party, which had campaigned belligerently against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the just-concluded assembly polls, warming up to the saffron party. 

The BJP, in alliance with the tribal Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT), has a slender majority of 33 in the 60-member assembly.

The Tipra Motha won 13 seats, all of them in the tribal-dominated areas, while the CPI(M) bagged 11 seats and the Congress won three. 

The formation of a separate ‘Tipraland’ state carved out of the tribal-dominated areas of Tripura was the primary campaign plank of the Motha, which is led by the charismatic scion of the erstwhile Tripura royal family, Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barma

The BJP was the first to reject this demand, thus earning the ire of the Motha.

Deb Barma made the saffron party his main target during the campaign.

Also, the Motha was widely perceived to have been propped up by the CPI(M) to ensure the defeat of the BJP in the tribal belt. 

The Motha, thanks to its election promise of a ‘Tipraland’ state for tribals and the charisma and standing of Pradyot Deb Barma (the tribals call their ‘bubagra’ or king), gained a lot of popularity in the tribal areas. 

The BJP made many efforts to woo the Motha during the election campaign.

A delegation of Motha leaders even went to New Delhi to hold talks with officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). 

But Pradyot Deb Barma’s insistence on a written commitment from the BJP for a ‘constitutional solution’ to its demand for ‘Tipraland’ led to repeated breakdown of negotiations.

The BJP was unwilling to offer such a commitment since that would have alienated the Bengali Hindus — the party’s core support base — who form about 62 per cent of the state’s population. 

However, the BJP realised that it is important to win the confidence of the tribals, who constitute about 30 per cent of the state’s population. 

“It is not possible to develop the state without the support of 30 per cent of its population. It is imperative to gain the confidence and take all sections of the people along in our quest to achieve our ‘unnata Tripura, shrestha Tripura’ (developed Tripura) goal. That’s why our leadership reached out to the Motha,” newly sworn-in Chief Minister Manik Saha told Swarajya from Agartala. 

And that’s why Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma announced in Agartala last weekend that the “issues raised by the Tirpa Motha needs to be discussed”. 

Sarma, who is the BJP’s pointsman in the North East, has strongly rejected the Motha’s demand for a separate Tiprasa state during the election campaign.

He had categorically stated that there is no question of even considering the ‘Tiprasa’ state demand. 

But after reaching Agartala on Saturday (4 March), Sarma held out an olive branch to the Motha.

“The territorial integrity of Tripura will be maintained at all costs and there will be no division of the state. But the issues raised by the Motha need to be discussed. Elections are over and these issues need to be sorted out by sitting across the table. I’m sure the new government in Tripura will hear the grievances of the Motha and resolve issues relating to the identity and development of tribals and tribal areas of the state,” Sarma had told reporters in Agartala. 

The Motha was quick to respond.

Pradyot Deb Barma took to social media to announce that he is ready to sit with the BJP for talks to “find a constitutional solution to the Tiprasa people’s problems”. 

His post on a social media platform read: “If we are respectfully invited for talks on constitutional rights — economic, political, language — we will participate. We are sons of the soil… We are ready for talks to find a constitutional solution to the problems of indigenous people. And, the talks cannot be about ministerial posts or individual benefits”.

Significantly, the Tipra Motha founder did not make any mention of the ‘Tiprasa’ state demand.

That, say political analysts, was a climbdown from his rigid stance that he would talk only after receiving a written assurance on the ‘Tiprasa’ demand. 

BJP leaders held backroom discussions with Tipra Motha leaders over the weekend and early this week.

They impressed upon the Motha leaders the need to work together for the benefit of the entire state. 

They also told the Motha leaders that the problems of poverty, unemployment and backwardness, including poor access to health, education and infrastructure, faced by the tribals will be addressed expeditiously by the new government. 

Those talks yielded results and the Motha’s top leadership agreed to sit for formal talks with the BJP leadership. 

Thus, immediately after the swearing-in ceremony of Manik Sarkar and eights others at the Swami Vivekananda Maidan in Agartala, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP national president J P Nadda and Assam Chief Minister Sarma drove straight to the state guest house where a six-member delegation of Motha leaders lead by Pradyot Deb Barma was waiting for them. 

The newly sworn-in Chief Minister, Manik Saha, also joined the talks which were held in a very friendly and cordial atmosphere. 

BJP leaders told Swarajya that Amit Shah explained to Deb Barma that the support of the tribals, who were an integral part of Tripura, was imperative for the new government’s ambitious plans of putting the state on the fast track to development and progress to succeed. 

The BJP leadership also invited the Motha to join the government and pointed out that three cabinet berths were left vacant in anticipation of that.

With 60 MLAs, the total strength of the state council of ministers (including the chief minister) can be 12. 

On Wednesday, apart from Chief Minister Manik Saha, seven BJP MLAs and the lone IPFT legislator took oath of office. There are, thus, three vacancies in the council of ministers. 

The Union Home Minister, it is learnt, told the Motha leadership that they would be able to do much more for the tribals by being part of the government rather than by sitting in the opposition benches.

Pradyot Deb Barma declined the invitation to join the new ministry immediately, but kept the doors open for that.

At Wednesday’s meeting, it was decided to start the process of a ‘constitutional solution’ of the problems of tribals with the appointment of an interlocutor to hold talks with various stakeholders. 

Deb Barma, in a tweet, thanked Union Home Minister Amit Shah for “understanding the genuine problems of the sons of soil”.

He termed the process as the start of a “huge dialogue to ensure that our (tribals’) survival and existence are protected”. 

BJP leaders said that a series of talks will be held from now on with representatives of the Motha, the IPFT and other tribal bodies as well as various stakeholders to decide on a concrete action plan for speedy development of tribal areas of the state and the tribal communities. 

Assam Chief Minister Sarma told Swarajya that the process of reaching out to the Motha and holding a dialogue with that party to decide on steps for development of tribals and tribal areas of Tripura was “dictated by the sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwaas philosophy enunciated by Prime Minister Modi”. 

“It is only the BJP, which believes strongly in inclusive development, that can reach out to a political adversary and take everyone, including rivals, on board to ensure development of all areas and communities. No other party would have been able to do this,” said Sarma. 

In a bid to gain the confidence of the tribals, the new BJP government also appointed IPFT leader Jayanti Deb Barma, the daughter of deceased IPFT founder and widely-respected tribal leader Narendra Chandra Debbarma, as chairperson of a state PSU.

State BJP vice president Patal Kanya Jamatia was also appointed as chairperson of another PSU. 

“This (the two appointments) was one of the first acts of the new government and reflected the BJP’s respect for tribals and women. It is significant that these two tribal women were appointed to these important posts on International Women’s Day,” said BJP state president Rajeev Bhattacharya. 

Surabhi Debnath, a political science professor at a reputed college in Agartala, told Swarajya that the BJP’s nimble-footedness and agility in reaching out to a political adversary like the Tipra Motha and bringing it to the negotiating table is “exemplary”. 

“The topmost priority accorded by the BJP leadership in reaching out to the Tipra Motha and starting a dialogue with the ‘bubagra’ is evident from the fact that the Union Home Minister and the party president drove straight from the swearing-in ceremony to the state guest house for talks with the Motha leadership. No other party would, or could have, done this,” she said. 

Haridev Bhattacharya, a retired professor of economics who is also a political commentator in Agartala told Swarajya that the BJP’s success in wooing the Motha leadership is the reason why the party scores over its rivals. 

“The Tipra Motha is no longer talking about a separate Tiprasa state, thanks to the BJP which has enticed the Motha away from its hardline stance. This has just earned the BJP enormous goodwill from Bengali Hindus now and if a poll is held today, I am sure more than 90 per cent of Bengali Hindus will wholeheartedly support the BJP.

“At the same time, the friendly gestures made by the BJP towards the Tipra Motha, and the talks between the Motha leadership and Amit Shah, Nadda, and chief ministers of Tripura and Assam, have also earned for the BJP enormous goodwill amongst the tribals. This is truly praiseworthy. No party other than the BJP could have achieved this,” said Bhattacharya. 

Tripura, said the Assam Chief Minister, is an example today of the sabka saath, sabka vikas policy being put to action. 

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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