Consolidation of 'indigenous' votes aligned Tripura's political landscape with the rest of the northeast.

IRCC Staff

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Tripura is strategically located and has historically played a crucial role in India-Bangladesh cooperation. Rail and road links are being extended through Tripura to offer India’s northeast access to Chittagong port in Bangladesh. Grid connectivity through Tripura ensures India-Bangladesh electricity trade.

Last but not the least, a 10 Gbps internet bandwidth link from the Cox’s Bazar landing station in Bangladesh to Tripura is a major boost to data connectivity (which is crucial to the spread of the digital economy) in the northeastern region.

In terms of its geography and population (3.6 million), Tripura is another small hill-state in the Northeast. However, it is distinct in terms of its history, demography, politics and strategic importance. 

It is a former princely state that chose to become a part of India. The benevolent king opened doors to Hindu refugees from East Bengal during the Partition, leading to sharp demographic changes that no other small state in the region suffered. 

As a result, Tripura saw the least indigenous identity-based politics that is the mainstay of the Northeast. It is the second Bengali-speaking state in India after West Bengal. And, similar to West Bengal, Tripura also saw long communist rule.

Chief Minister, Manik Saha 

To put it straight, Tripura is an outlier to the set political pattern in the northeast. BJP won the state in 2018 defeating the CPM-led Left Front. As of 2023, the Left and Congress formed a coalition to claim stake on power. 

The political landscape, however, has undergone a major change ever since Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barma, the head of the Tripuri royal family, formed the Tipra Motha Party (TMP) in 2019.

Fondly called the ‘Maharaja,’ Deb Barma was previously the state chief of Congress. His party is demanding a separate state for the indigenous communities. The call has consolidated the indigenous population contributing roughly a third of the state population. 

TPM swept the Autonomous District Council (ADC) election in 2021. In a discussion round with IRCC; political scientist and author Sajjan Kumar held that TPM will get anywhere between 11 and 15 out of the 20 seats reserved for the scheduled tribes in Tripura. 

He attributes the tribal consolidation to both economic and emotional depravity. While tribals are relatively backward in an otherwise low-income state; what had hurt them the most is the historical neglect to their cultural ownership over the land during the long communist rule. 

The cultural neglect had its roots to the ideological position taken by the Left against the royalty. The ruling BJP government took corrective measures by renaming the airport in the name of the former king, but the indigenous communities now demand more space. 

In the political landscape of Tripura, consolidation of tribal votes triggers a counter-consolidation of Bengali votes (70%). Kumar says Bengali votes will consolidate in favour of BJP as the only viable alternative. 

You may see the discussion here: 

The left-Congress coalition hasn’t cut much ice even within the loyalists of either party. A similar coalition in 2016 suffered in West Bengal. Kumar says it will suffer more in the polarized (indigenous vs Bengali) political environment of Tripura. 

It means BJP should get a majority in the 60-seat assembly on its own. However, the party would have a lot to do in terms of governance and economic development of the state, if it returns to power. 

BJP came to power in 2018, mostly on negative votes against the Left. They promised the moon to voters and failed on delivery, excepting the rapid progress of central government-sponsored social and physical infrastructure projects. 

On the brighter side, the five-year BJP rule demolished the party society. The strange hold of the party in daily life, a hallmark of communist rule, is gone. 

As per Singh’s study, voters appreciated less favouritism in the distribution of public goods during BJP rule.

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    2023-03-04 20:38:52

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