BJP govt in Tripura is facing continuing tensions in leadership

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By: Sagarneel Sinha

For the time being, the BJP leadership may be content with the fact that it has somehow managed to douse the fire of rebellion in the state by preventing its disgruntled MLAs from leaving the party. The internal rift, however, hasn’t died. It has just slowed down. The alertness of the saffron party’s Delhi leadership by sending BL Santosh, the party’s general secretary (organisation), forced the dissenters to tone down their rebellious voices. The dissenters are led by former Congress state president Sudip Roy Barman, son of former chief minister Samir Ranjan Barman from the Congress. Sudip has always been a very ambitious leader with his eye on the chief minister’s post. He was the face of the Congress-led opposition alliance in the 2013 assembly polls against then chief minister Manik Sarkar.

The Congress party performed poorly under Sudip’s leadership with CPI(M) led Left Front coming to power under Manik’s leadership for the consecutive fourth time with a strong mandate. Despite the grand old party’s debacle, Sudip was made the leader of the Congress legislature party. Unhappy with Sudip’s dominance, many prominent Congress leaders like Surajit Datta, former state Congress president and former ministers like Ratan Chakraborty, Jawahar Saha etc left the party in the same year to join Trinamool Congress. Another dissatisfied Congress leader Subal Bhowmik formed his own party — Tripura Gramin Pragatisheel Congress, a regional party that failed to create its own space in state politics. Although the Congress leadership kept faith in him despite suffering many jolts, Sudip along with 5 party MLAs decided to join Trinamool Congress protesting against CPI(M)-Congress alliance in West Bengal in 2016. Boosted by this development, even party supremo Mamata Banerjee came to Agartala to address a large rally organised by her party in presence of Sudip camp to assert that Trinamool would come to power in the 2018 state assembly polls.

Sudip camp joined Trinamool at a time when the party under Mamata Banerjee returned to power for the second time in West Bengal with a thundering mandate and Congress was declining in Tripura with dissatisfied party voters joining Trinamool and BJP. Importantly, despite Sudip camp joining the party, Trinamool Congress didn’t gain the momentum in all parts of the state as expected. In fact, the BJP was emerging as the main opposition party in the plains while Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura of NC Debbarma in the hills. These political complications were slowly becoming a hurdle to Sudip camp’s aspirations and as a result, they chose BJP within one year of joining Trinamool Congress.

Although they tried to give an ideological colour to hide their sheer political opportunism by protesting Trinamool’s decision to support UPA presidential candidate Meira Kumar, who was also supported by the Left. Significantly, back in 2012, the same Sudip camp voted for UPA presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee, who was also supported by CPI(M). This development completely diminished the chances of Trinamool Congress to establish itself as a major player before the 2018 assembly elections and made BJP the only major contender against the juggernaut CPI(M) led Left Front. With the decline of Congress and Trinamool Congress from the electoral scene, and rising anti-incumbency against the Left and prime minister Narendra Modi’s appeals in his state election rallies gaining major public attention, the BJP successfully pulled all the anti-Left votes along with a dissatisfied section of Left voters and sprang a big surprise across the nation by registering victory for the first time in the state, where the saffron party never even won an assembly seat.

The saffron party’s victory also boosted Sudip’s political career. But he had to remain happy with the post of health minister as the saffron party made state party president Biplab Deb, who before joining BJP was in RSS, the chief minister and offered the post of deputy chief minister to Jishnu Dev Barman, who belongs to the state royal family and has been a long time member of the party, keeping the tribal sentiments in mind. And within a year, distances started growing between Sudip and state BJP. His relations turned sour with Biplab, who eventually removed him from the post of health minister in 2019. Actually, Sudip camp has been unhappy with the state BJP for quite a long time. After Trinamool Congress’s third consecutive victory in West Bengal and the return of Mukul Roy from BJP to the party, speculations rose that Sudip camp would also go back to their previous party. Mukul previously was Trinamool in charge of the state, who then played a key role in bringing Sudip camp in the party. The Trinamool, which once again is trying to expand in Tripura and the northeast, is not keen to do things in haste given the betrayal of Sudip camp in the past.

Also, with the rise of Abhishek Banerjee, Mamata’s nephew, Mukul won’t be as powerful as he used to be earlier in the party. It’s a fact that the saffron party’s popularity has taken a dip in the state and the camp is trying to utilize this opportunity in their favour. If reports are to be believed, all demands of Sudip camp aren’t entertained by the BJP’s central leadership. The saffron party, like Trinamool, too doesn’t have full faith in Sudip camp. The camp presently has 5-6 MLAs to their side and if they leave BJP to form a new party or join Trinamool, they will face the anti-defection law and lose their memberships of the state legislature. Not only this, the camp with the help of some media houses in the state has been trying very hard to portray that “Sudip is the most popular state leader”.

The reality, however, is different. His influence isn’t spread across the state. In fact, all these anti-party activities by Sudip camp have only angered the BJP central leadership. As a result, the camp, despite their uneasiness within the BJP, has been forced to tone down their rebellious voices. The camp is currently waiting for the right moment as Trinamool too is in favour of taking a careful approach in Tripura, where the party’s several attempts in the past to gain power has always backfired. (IPA Service)

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