The move to bring in an older dental surgeon, Dr Manik Saha, as chief minister, replaces junior Biplob Kumar Dev, is seen by many here in the strategic, gateway state of the Northeast as a ‘brand renewal practice’. Saha, a maxillofacial surgeon who graduated from King George Medical College in Lucknow and was a member of the Opposition Congress before joining the BJP in 2016, and Dev became the president of the BJP’s Tripura unit in 2020 after leaving the post. Saha, a former badminton player from the state, is also the president of the Tripura Cricket Association.
However, its importance in the BJP stems from its clean image and its track record, which includes the BJP’s victory in all thirteen civic bodies in the November 2021 elections in Tripura when the TMC was engaged in a fierce battle with the Saffron Party.
Sources said the move came after an analysis sent by the BJP-led RSS led by the RSS indicated that there was a need for a change of watchdog in the party and the government.
Top sources in the ruling party said the move was necessary to “immediately strengthen the party” when the organization was not in good shape before the state assembly elections in the next 8-9 months.
Party insiders say the situation is unfolding among grassroots workers because a section of young workers, known as ‘bike gangs’, were engaged in high-profile activities that “tarnished the image of the party”.
Senior leaders are repeatedly sending letters to the central leadership on the issue.
However, what really seemed to the party a nightmare was the sudden rise of the Tripura Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance or Tipra Motha, a regional political party led by Prayot Kishore Devvarma of royal descent, seeking a separate state for the indigenous people of Tripura. .
The party won the Tripura Tribal Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) elections held in April last year, winning 18 out of 28 seats in a direct contest with the ruling BJP-IPFT alliance, demanding a ‘greater Tipraland’.
State claims could affect the outcome of many assembly seats, where tribes have considerable electoral influence.
TIPRA Motha completely polarized the politics of the state by raising the demand for a separate tribal state and created tension in some mixed pockets of the state, where one-third of the population is tribal.
Party sources said the BJP is not in a position to deal with the rise of Tipra Motha in tribal areas and the tribal party will sweep the tribal areas in the next elections.
Moreover, the tribal party has threatened to field candidates in at least 25 of the 40 general seats.
Tribals are responsible for a significant portion of the vote in these seats, meaning Devvarma’s support could hold the key to the next election.
The BJP’s tribal ally, the Tripura Indigenous People’s Front (IPFT), failed to win a single seat in the last tribal assembly elections and has recently suffered a vertical split, led by two incumbent ministers.
Under the circumstances, the Saffron Party has decided to strengthen its party organizationally and restructure its leadership in its tribal branch, the Janajati Morcha.
Whether the friendly Saha will be able to tackle the various problems left by its predecessor and lead the BJP to a clear victory or whether the revived Left or the incoming TMC in collaboration with the young royal party will be able to snatch a victory. Something that only time will tell.
By Jayanta Bhattacharya