Biplab Deb walks away as Tripura polls approach but why the road ahead may not be easy for new CM Manik Saha & BJP

Political developments in the northeastern state of Tripura took a sudden turn on Saturday night when Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb tendered his resignation to Governor Satyadeo Narain Arya. Later, the BJP’s state unit chairman, Manik Saha, who was recently elected in the Rajya Sabha, was appointed as the state’s new chief minister. The resignation of Biplab Deb, the state’s first BJP chief minister, comes at a time when assembly elections are only about eight months away. There have been talks for some time that the ruling party might prefer to hold elections at the end of this year – ahead of schedule.

Internal rebellion against Biplab Deb

Although the removal of Biplab Deb was a sudden development, it was not something beyond expectations. Since becoming chief minister in 2018, there had been discontent against him within the party. In recent years, this resentment has only increased. In October 2020, allegedly unhappy with Biplab’s style of operation, at least eight MPs led by Sudip Roy Barman, who was ousted as health minister in 2019, camped out in New Delhi to pressure the central leadership. of the BJP to change the CM.

Biplab managed to weaken the rebellion after bringing in the help of Sudip Sushanta Chowdhury in his cabinet. He also welcomed another disgruntled leader, Ramprasad Paul, a former BJP operative closely associated with the RSS, into his cabinet. Sudip, an ambitious politician who had long eyed the CM chairman, resigned from his Agartala constituency and the BJP this year and returned to his old party, the Congress. He was accompanied by Bardowali Town MP Ashish Saha who also tendered his resignation from the assembly and the party.

Growing anti-incumbency against BJP

There has been growing anger against the BJP government led by Biplab. State government workers, who played a significant role in the BJP’s victory in 2018, are currently unhappy with the current dispensation due to their pending high cost allowances. Currently, the high cost allowance gap between state and central government employees is 28%. While it is likely that the BJP government will try to reduce this gap before the elections, it is clear that the party, for the moment, has not responded to the aspirations of the employees.

The current exemption has also failed, to date, to find a solution for the 10,323 dismissed teachers. Before the 2018 elections, BJP leaders had promised to find a solution if the party were elected to power. Another major factor that ended the 25-year CPI(M) rule was the high unemployment rate in the state. The BJP had promised before the elections to bring a solution to the problem but unemployment remains a major problem.

The face change was imminent

The BJP had no choice but to opt for a new face. Already, the party has opted for organizational changes keeping in mind the upcoming National Assembly elections. Recently, he appointed a political novice Bikash Debbarma as State President ST Morcha, replacing Rebati Mohan Tripura, Lok Sabha MP from Tripura East seat. Subsequently, the party also changed the chairman of its state minority unit and appointed Mohammad Shah Alam. It is expected that Biplab, who was the state party chairman when the BJP first won the northeastern state, will play a role in the organization again.

In political circles, Manik Saha is considered close to the Biplab camp. A professional dentist and political novice, he joined the BJP in 2016 and became the party’s state chairman in 2020, after Biplab resigned. Already a section, including party elders, have been quite unhappy with Manik’s functioning as party president. This year, some of the former BJP leadership, including OBC Social Affairs Minister Ramprasad Paul, rioted against him and demanded he step down.

It has been alleged that Manik has failed to expand the organizational activities of the party, especially in the hills, where the Saffron Party faces a tough challenge from royal scion Pradyot Debbarman’s TIPRA Motha, the party in power of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC). The Allied Indigenous Peoples of Tripura Front (IPFT), which played a big role in the BJP’s victory in 2018, has weakened in the hills and is currently split into two camps – one led by the Minister of Revenue State NC Debbarma and the other by Tribal Welfare Minister Mevar Kumar Jamatia, who is inclined to associate with TIPRA Motha.

The saffron party is already organizationally weak in the tribal belt – and this time, it seems, it cannot depend on ally IPFT either. Although the BJP has inducted Tripura Popular Front leader Patal Kanya Jamatia, a former associate of Pradyot, into the party, its influence has yet to be tested against TIPRA Motha. The tribes influence about 35 to 36 seats in the assembly. Of these, 20 are ST-only – although non-tribals are the majority in about 6-7 of them. Tribals make up 31% of the state’s population and hold the key to any party’s rise to power.

Another weak BJP CM?

The appointment of Manik Saha, who was recently sent to the upper house, as the new prime minister clearly did not please part of the party. Already, Ramprasad Paul has openly rebelled against Manik’s appointment by engaging in a row inside the state party office. Another provincial deputy, Parimal Debbarma, also expressed his dissatisfaction with the manner in which Manik was elected to lead the party in the legislature.

It’s not that the party didn’t have other options. There were two favorites – Union Minister Pratima Bhowmik and current Deputy Chief Minister Jishnu Dev Verma, a senior royal and tribal face of the party. Since becoming Union Minister last year, Pratima, the prominent female face of the party, has become a popular party leader in the state. Both leaders have been involved in the BJP since the 1990s.

The road ahead is already difficult for the new Prime Minister Manik Saha. He is certainly not on a strong wicket and will have to depend more on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to succeed in the upcoming State Assembly polls. It is a fact that Modi remains very popular in the state due to the successful implementation of central government social welfare programs on the ground.

The author is a political commentator based in Tripura.

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