Political realignments could see some strange bedfellows in Tripura

By Sujit Chakraborty 

Agartala, Feb 5 (IANS): A year ahead of the assembly polls in Tripura - under Left rule for over two decades now -- a realignment of opposition parties and leaders has already begun as they seek to defeat the existing dispensation -- making for some rather strange alliances.

Biplab Kumar Deb, the Tripura unit chief of the Bharatiya Janata Party (B JP), has held separate meetings with Trinamool Congress (TMC) MLA Biswabandhu Sen and former Congress legislature party leader and incumbent MLA Ratan Lal Nath, raising the possibility that the duo might join the saffron outfit.

"To defeat the ruling Left parties, a 'mahajote' (grand alliance) would be formed among the opposition political parties," Deb said rather enigmatically when asked wheter Sen and Nath would join the BJP, adding: "During the 24 years of uninterrupted rule of the Left Front, no development had taken place in Tripura. Central funds were misused and unemployment has risen."

The TMC's main leader and legislator Sudip Roy Barman has endorsed Deb.

"We would go any extent to form a 'mahajote' among all opposition parties" to defeat the Left Front in the assembly elections, Barman asserted.

Barman, then with the Congress, had quit along with five MLAs and joined the TMC, opposing his party's alliance with the Left in the West Bengal assembly elections last year.

A 'mahajote', it should be remembered, is a rare phenomenon in Indian politics. It was last seen when the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress came together to roundly defeat the BJP in the 2015 Bihar assembly elections.

The JD-U attempted a similar exercise for the February-March Uttar Pradesh assembly elections but it fell through due to the lack of enthusiasm by the state's ruling Samajwadi Party, which has tied up with the Congress.

The Congress' Nath told reporters that, at the moment, he would not disclose the issues discussed with the BJP's Deb -- but did leave a window open.

"The BJP government at the Centre is doing many good things for the people," said Nath, who, during a recent debate in the state assembly on demonitisation, supported Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On his part, state Congress President Birajit Sinha said he has written to the party high command in Delhi to take disciplinary action against Nath "for breach of discipline".

In another political development, three rival tribal-based parties in Tripura have come together and called for a 12-hour shutdown on February 8 to oppose the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.

The Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT), the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT) and the National Conference of Tripura (NCT) formed the All Tripura Indigenous Regional Parties Forum (ATIRPF) to oppose the bill introduced in parliament by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

The shutdown has been called in the jurisdiction of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) to oppose the bill that aims to recognise illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.

The TTAADC was formed in 1987 under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution to protect and safeguard the political, economic and cultural interests of the tribals. The politically important council constitutes two-third of Tripura's 10,491 sq. km area.

The INPT and IPFT would also organise a "Delhi Abhiyan" (march to Delhi) this month end to press their demands with the central government.

Just how this movement pans out is bound to have an impact on the assembly elections. This is because tribals, who constitute one-third of Tripura's 3.7 million population, play a crucial role in politics in the ethnically-mixed state with 20 of the 60 assembly seats and one of the two Lok Sabha seats reserved for them.

For the moment, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which leads the Left Front and has a substantial base among both tribals and non-tribals, doesn't seem too concerned about any new alliances emerging.

"We are not bothered about the so-called grand alliance among the opposition parties. The Left Front government has done many things for the development of the state and its people. Between 51 to 54 per cent of the electorate has always been voting in favour of the Left Front," CPI-M Central Committee member and state unit Secretary Bijan Dhar said.


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