The BJP and its alliance partner IPFT(NC) in Tripura, a separatist tribal party, have successfully breached the 25-year-old communist fort in the state. The alliance won 43 seats with the BJP securing a majority on its own by bagging 35 seats. Together they bagged 50.5 per cent of votes in the state, a mandate totally unexpected for any alliance except the Left Front till some days ago. The IPFT(NC) has secured two berths in the cabinet to be headed by Biplab Deb, the new chief minister of Tripura.
However, the winning alliance seems to be heading towards a rocky ground. While IPFT(NC) chief NC Debbarma already made headlines with his demand for proportionate representation of party MLAs in the Cabinet and allocation of major departments to them, the demand for the creation of a separate state, Tipraland, is another issue that is gaining ground.
According to Debbarma, it is the topmost priority that helped his party win in the crucial tribal belt. The issue was sent to backburner only for the time being to cross the election river on the advice of its partner BJP.
Just administered oath to Tripura CM Biplab Kumar Deb. Young man,6’-3” tall,resplendent in a coloured Modi-jacket. People,including Muslims,in his ancestral village of Meghdair,Chandpur,Bangladesh are also celebrating. Modiji present and addressing the crowd. Sadly,I can’t watch— Tathagata Roy (@tathagata2) March 9, 2018
PM Shri Modi attends swearing-in ceremony of Shri Biplab Kumar Deb as the Chief Minister of Tripura https://t.co/lHPWrGhJ3K— BJP Gujarat (@BJP4Gujarat) March 9, 2018
The saffron party, which had no presence in the hill areas, needed the support of the IPFT(NC). But, keeping in mind the insecurities of the dominant Bengali community, the BJP managed to persuade Debbarma and his party to remain silent on the issue.
Debbarma was aware about the saffron outfit’s concerns and chose to maintain serenity on the Tipraland issue so as to help the latter demolish the Left. However, the IPFT(NC) gave enough indications to its supporters that the demand is still on which was evident from Debbarma’s absence at the launch of BJP's vision document (party manifesto) at the state party office by Union finance minister Arun Jaitley.
It is worth mentioning that the BJP too didn’t mention Tipraland, which may have been a reason that prevented Debbarma from joining the event. There were, however, reports of local IPFT(NC) leaders bringing in the issue of Tipraland during the election campaign. It is a well-known fact that the Tipraland issue helped the tribal party secure eight out of the nine contested seats, the best winning strike rate by any party in this Assembly elections.
It seems the tribal party also successfully managed to transfer its voters to the BJP in the tribal belt where the latter won nine of the 10 contested seats. (The election of Charilam ST seat is going to be held on March 12 where BJP candidate and deputy chief minister of the state, Jishnu Debbarma, is in the fray and is expected to win the seat).
The BJP has always reiterated about a united Tripura, dismissing the demand of Tipraland. The party is aware of the fact that the demand is not practicable. But how will it persuade Debbarma and his party?
Although it was a big relief for the BJP to secure a majority on its own - which means even if the IPFT(NC) breaks the alliance, the BJP will still be in power. The state had earlier witnessed agitations by the tribal party which at times were violent, sometimes even clashing with the majority Bengalis. And if its demands are not met, the party in all likelihood would resort to agitating again, more vigorously than earlier, which might put the new government in a precarious situation.
A majority of tribal youths support the creation of a separate state and seem to have voted for the alliance to see Tipraland being carved out of Tripura. Politically speaking, in such a situation, the BJP may also lose a substantial chunk of votes in the tribal belt.
Talking about regional alliances, the BJP is not in a comfortable situation in Jammu and Kashmir due to the growing schism between the saffron party and ally PDP. The PDP was earlier accused of having a soft corner for separatist elements and terrorists in the Valley. Leaders within the PDP are still seen as having a soft corner for the separatists. While the situation in the Valley is worsening by the day, the BJP, however, is spared the blame as it is a junior partner in the coalition making it easy for saffron supporters to turn the gun towards PDP chief and CM Mehbooba Mufti. Demands are also growing within the BJP to break the alliance with PDP as it is seen to be affecting the saffron party's nationalist image.
At this juncture, tie-up with a secessionist party like the IPFT(NC) in Tripura, whose agenda is limited only to the benefits of the tribals ignoring the other 69 per cent population - the dominant Bengalis and other minority non-tribal communities - may land the BJP in trouble in the coming days.
The IPFT(NC) in all likelihood will stick to its demand of Tipraland, calling it rational and within Constitutional rights, but the truth is that such a demand is not viable in a small state like Tripura which had earlier witnessed bloodshed due to ethnic violence between Bengalis and tribals.
Even though the BJP’s alliance formula with the IPFT(NC) worked well ending the 25-year-old Left regime, the saffron party now has another battle to win, this time with its ally.