By: Ashis Biswas
With only a few days left for the Tripura Assembly polls, major parties have continued their efforts to work out pre-poll alliances. So far, only the CPI(M) and Congress are in the process of finalising a joint pre-poll campaign , having agreed to contest the elections in alliance, in an effort to consolidate secular and progressive forces in Tripura against the ruling BJP.
Other than that, no alliance has yet emerged among different contesting outfits and groups, while negotiations continue.
For all parties contesting the 2023 elections, the new tribal outfit Tipra Motha(TM) remains the most sought after alliance partner. However, a pre-condition laid down by TM leader Pradyot Manikya Debbarman has put a spanner in the works for most parties.
Debbarman has called upon aspirant political partners seeking a pre-poll understanding with the TM to announce their advance support and commitment for the proposed formation of a separate tribal state. He has also made it clear driving a hard bargain, that under no circumstances will he abandon the demand for a new state.
Not even the high profile Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was able to win any concessions from Debbarman during a recent meeting they had in Delhi. Assam-based media reports said that when queried by mediapersons, Sarma sought to minimise the significance of their conversation, presumably to underplay the BJP’s failure to persuade the TM to ally with it.
Decisions on such matters in Tripura, Sarma clarified, were usually taken by a high power committee. Observers found Sarma’s explanation intriguing – it being common knowledge that he was the BJP’s foremost leader in the entire Northeast region, whose word was final on most issues.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) faced no better in its bid to work out a pre-poll arrangement with the TM. TMC insiders admitted that top leaders in the party’s Kolkata headquarters were ‘very keen’ to work out a ‘special relationship ‘with the TM. They had instructed their Tripura leadership to examine the possibilities, but to no avail.
More than anything else, Debbarman’s pre-condition calling for advance support/commitment from contesting parties on the separate state issue, effectively queered the pitch for further dialogue, said observers.
A major reason was the lack of specific details regarding the TM’s proposal for a new territory. Just how much area was the TM looking for and in which parts of Tripura? No maps had been circulated. TM leaders had stated that no territory would be sought from neighbouring states, but there was no clarity as to how its proposal would be carried out within Tripura itself.
Given this backdrop, how could other parties be expected to announce any kind of endorsement, let alone support or commitment, for a new state?
The TM took yet another step towards consolidating the bulk of tribal votes by appealing to leaders of the rival tribal outfit IPFT to join it, to prevent any split among tribal voters on polling day on February 16. As it is, 20 out of 60 seats in the state Assembly are reserved for tribals.
With the TM expected to sweep most of these seats, non tribal parties such as the BJP, the TMC, Left/Congress etc might find it difficult to reach adequate numbers on their own. The three way split among non tribal votes may well send these parties to the opposition benches, for the first time in post independent Tripura.
In part the Left/Congress alliance seeks in its own limited way to reduce the extent of a vote split within the secular camp of voters as far as possible. However, major problems for the alliance are about to begin.
Most other parties have not been impressed by the decision taken by the CPI(M) and Congress to come together.
To begin with, they point to the failure of similar experiments in West Bengal where neither the Left parties nor Congress succeeded in posing a challenge to the ruling TMC. Congress leaders, supporters and activists, whether in Bengal or Tripura, had been subject to ruthless repression by ruling Left cadres until recently.
While the more organised pro left voters could support a jointly backed candidate, the same could not be said for pro Congress voters. In fact experience had shown that even the pre poll campaigning had suffered in many areas in Bengal, because of’ too many unpleasant incidents’ in the distant past.
Who could say that the same would not happen in Tripura?
In fact even Debbarman has referred to this problem while commenting on the present somewhat uneasy bonhomie between the Left and Congress.
If IPFT leaders respond to his appeal to work out new ties with the TM and help it present a strong united tribal front against other parties, a new political chapter would have to be written about Tripura after March 2. (IPA Service)