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Published on: Feb. 14, 2023, 2:59 p.m.
Royal’s play in Tripura
  • The Tipra Motha is spearheading the demand for a separate state

By Rakesh Joshi. Executive Editor, Business India

The demand for a separate state of Greater Tipraland, carved out of the tribal areas of Tripura, has put national parties on tenterhooks. Of the 60 assembly constituencies in Tripura, as many as 20 are reserved for Scheduled Tribes (ST). In 2018, eight of these seats were bagged by the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), 10 by the BJP and two by the CPI (M).

But, now it would appear that the ST votes are consolidating in favour of the Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA) Motha, which is spearheading the demand for a separate state. The outfit is led by Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barman, a former Congressman, who belongs to the Manikya dynasty, which once ruled Tripura.

Barman’s political importance can be gauged from the fact that he recently received a call from ministry of home affairs for talks on his party’s demand for a constitutional solution to demand of Greater Tipraland. Barman subsequently met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi. Clearly, the BJP was not confident of coming to power on its own. Hence, the parleys with Barman, which came to nought. As Barman was once in talks with Congress and the CPI (M), Shah is now attacking him as a stooge of the latter.

The election in Tripura is set to be a three-cornered contest this time. The Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), which once called the shots in the tribal areas, stands diminished and the BJP is facing strong headwinds, while the CPI (M) and the Congress are in an alliance, which was inconceivable in the past. Due to the rising popularity of Tipra Motha in tribal areas, Barman is being seen as a future kingmaker. 

Barman’s interesting past

The princely state of Tripura was once ruled by the Manikya dynasty, belonging to the Tripuri or Tiprasa community, from the late 13th century until the signing of the Instrument of Accession with the Indian government on 15 October 1949. At the time, Barman’s father Kirit Bikram Manikya held Tripura’s reigns, though he was still a minor. Later, both Kirit Bikram and his wife Bibhu Kumari Devi were elected as Lok Sabha MPs from the Congress.

Barman himself has served as the Congress’ working president before resigning in September 2019. He has an interesting past, including that as founder-editor of The Northeast Today, a magazine targeted at English readers in North-eastern states. He is a vocal critic of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and is a prolific guest speaker at universities, the most notable being Harvard.

The demand stems from a desire for an ethnic homeland for indigenous communities in the region, who have been reduced to minorities after the influx of Bengalis in the area during Partition. There was also another influx during the 1971 liberation war in Bangladesh.

  • The demand stems from a desire for an ethnic homeland for indigenous communities in the region, who have been reduced to minorities after the influx of Bengalis in the area during Partition

This is not the first time that a demand for a separate state has been raised in the state, with the IPFT raising the call in 2000. Two years later, they merged with the Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti (TUJS), giving birth to the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra (INPT). However, the IPFT was revived in 2009 by N.C. Deb Barma. The IPFT-BJP alliance was successful and Deb Barma was a minister in the coalition government until his death in January 2022.

Now, the demand is being spearheaded by the Tipra Motha, which has spurned an alliance with all parties, saying they want their demand for a separate state to be acknowledged in writing beforehand. Greater Tipraland will help protect the culture and rights of tribals, Barman feels, and he wants his demands to be fulfilled under Articles 2 and 3 of the Indian Constitution. 

The Tipra Motha has seen a spectacular rise, bagging 18 of 28 seats in the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTADC) in 2021. There were talks of an IPFT-Tipra Motha alliance but Barman’s party has now announced that it will contest 42 out of the 60 seats, going solo. 

While the central leadership of the BJP have rejected the demand for Greater Tipraland on the ground that it will open a Pandora’s box, some regional party leaders have embarrassed the leadership by seeking division of neighbouring West Bengal and demanded a separate state for north Bengal. In the past few years, several BJP leaders, including John Barla, MP, have demanded that north Bengal be made a separate state or a Union Territory be carved out of the region. 

The Trinamool Congress had latched on to the issue to put the BJP on the mat. “They have double standards,” says Udayan Guha, North Bengal Development minister. “Why is there a different mentality for West Bengal and another for Tripura?”

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