Tripura BJP, TIPRA, IPFT Leaders Left for Delhi; Union Home Minister Amit Shah to Chair Meeting on Saturday

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Posted in Featured, Northeast, Tripura
Abhijit Nath, NET Correspondent, Tripura

Agartala, March 1, 2024: A high-level delegation of Tripura leaders, including the Chief Minister Dr Manik Saha, the TTAADC chairman Jagadish Debbarma, and the TIPRA Motha supremo, flew to Delhi on Friday evening to hold talks with the Union Home Minister over the constitutional demands of the indigenous people of the state. The meeting comes amid a hunger strike by Pradyot Kishore Debbarman, the supremo of TIPRA Motha, a regional party that represents the interests of the tribal communities.

Debbarman, who is also the royal scion of the erstwhile princely state of Tripura, launched the hunger strike on February 28, demanding a separate state ‘Greater Tipraland’ for the indigenous people, a greater autonomy for the TTAADC, and the inclusion of the Kokborok language in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. He claimed that he had exhausted all other means of dialogue and protest, and that he would not end his fast until his demands were met.

However, within an hour of starting his hunger strike, Debbarman received a phone call from Delhi, asking him to come for a discussion. He left the hunger strike stage and boarded a flight to the national capital, leaving his supporters and party workers in a state of confusion and dismay.

The hunger strike, however, continued in his absence, with other leaders and activists of TIPRA Motha taking turns to fast. The protest drew attention and support from various quarters, including the opposition parties, civil society groups, and celebrities.

Meanwhile, the ruling BJP-IPFT coalition in Tripura faced a dilemma over how to deal with the situation. The BJP, which came to power in 2018 by ousting the 25-year-old Left Front government, had promised to protect the rights and culture of the indigenous people, who constitute about one-third of the state’s population. The IPFT, its ally, had also campaigned for a separate state for the tribals, but later toned down its demand after joining the government.

The BJP-IPFT government, however, failed to fulfill many of its promises, such as implementing the recommendations of the high-level committee on ADC reforms, granting land rights to the displaced tribals, and ensuring the reservation of seats for the indigenous people in the state assembly and the Lok Sabha.

The government also faced criticism for its handling of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which sparked widespread protests in the state in 2019. Many indigenous groups feared that the CAA would threaten their identity and demography by granting citizenship to illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, who are mostly Bengali-speaking Muslims.

The TIPRA Motha, which was formed in 2020 by Debbarman, emerged as a formidable force in the state politics by raising these issues and mobilizing the indigenous masses. The party won the ADC elections in 2021, defeating both the BJP and the CPI(M), and formed the council with the support of the TIPRA, a platform of various tribal outfits.

The party also announced its intention to contest the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, scheduled for April 2024, and challenged the BJP-IPFT alliance to prove its commitment to the indigenous cause. The party said that it would field candidates for both the seats in the state, one of which is reserved for the Scheduled Tribes.

The BJP, which is keen to retain its hold on the state, is wary of the rising popularity and influence of the TIPRA Motha, which could dent its vote bank and jeopardize its prospects in the Lok Sabha polls. The party is also aware of the possibility of a tacit understanding between the TIPRA Motha and the opposition parties, such as the Congress and the CPI(M), to corner the BJP-IPFT alliance on the issue of indigenous rights.

The BJP, therefore, wants to resolve the crisis before announcing its candidates for the Lok Sabha elections, and avoid a repeat of the scenario that unfolded in the assembly elections in 2018, when Devabarman, who was then a Congress leader, quit the party and joined hands with the BJP, helping it to win over the tribal voters.

The BJP hopes that by inviting Debbarman and other Tripura leaders to Delhi, it can persuade them to call off the hunger strike and reach a consensus on the constitutional demands. The party also hopes that by doing so, it can project itself as a responsive and responsible government, and win back the trust and confidence of the indigenous people.

However, it remains to be seen whether the Delhi talks will yield any positive outcome, or whether they will end up as another exercise in futility. Debbarman, who has been vocal and vocal about his demands, has said that he will not compromise on the aspirations of his people, and that he will not return to the state without securing their constitutional rights. He has also said that he will not align with any political party, and that he will fight for the indigenous cause independently.

The fate of the hunger strike, and the future of Tripura politics, thus hangs in the balance, as the Delhi meeting is expected to take place on Saturday. The meeting will be attended by Debbarman, Chief Minister Dr Manik Saha, TTAADC Chairman Jagadish Debbarma, IPFT leader and minister Shuklacharan Noatia, State Chief Secretary JK Sinha, TIPRA Motha President Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhwal, and MLA Brishuketu Debbarma, among others. The meeting will be chaired by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who is also the BJP’s chief strategist for the Lok Sabha elections.

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