BJP rids one of its own chief ministers to douse infighting, writes Sayantan Ghosh

The saffron party had a good political strategy but failed to understand the sentiments of the community. The factionalism in the party has reached its peak and the BJP has become the enemy of the BJP. Even after Sudip Roy Barman left the BJP party and joined the Congress, there were no signs of a decline in infighting.

Sayantan GhoshUpdated: Wednesday, May 25, 2022, 09:02 AM IST
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The new Tripura CM Manik Saha clicked while allocating portfolios. | Photo: Twitter

Four years ago, the Bharatiya Janata Party received a significant victory in the state of Tripura. A state which has mostly been under Left rule voted for the saffron party and the BJP chose Biplab Kumar Deb as the Chief Minister of the party. However, within four years, the top brass of the BJP had to remove him as the CM. While for the BJP, replacing a CM a year before the elections is not new, the case of Tripura is much different from the other states. The growing infighting with the saffron party is the key reason why the BJP had to remove Deb and bring in Manik Saha as the new CM.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's campaign slogan for the 2016 Tripura Assembly Election was "Mujhe Hira Chahiye, Manik Nahi" (I want Hira, not Manik). After four years and three months, Modi wanted Manik. But this is, of course, not the veteran CPIM leader and former CM Manik Sarkar, but Saha. By HIRA PM Modi did not mean diamond though. He meant Highway, Iway (Digital Communications), Roadways, and Airways.

After the victory, the BJP made Biplab Deb, the handiwork of the RSS, the Chief Minister of Tripura. Top leaders flew from Delhi to Agartala for Deb's swearing-in ceremony. On the stage, Modi-Shah was accompanied by Lal Krishna Advani, Rajnath Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi, and Vijay Rupani. Everyone on the stage witnessed that "Baiplabik" (revolutionary) moment.

This victory of the BJP was significant not only because of the defeat of the Left, but also because this was the BJP's first grand victory within the Bengali community. Following this victory, the BJP did well in the Lok Sabha elections in Bengal too. These two victories gave the BJP the confidence to launch a massive campaign to conquer Bengal during its assembly elections of 2021. But, the BJP failed miserably.

A few days ago, Amit Shah himself spoke of making Tripura a model state under the leadership of Biplab Dev. Before 2016, the BJP received reports that the winds of change were blowing in Tripura and that the BJP may come to power. After receiving this report, the central leadership of the saffron party decided to put its full strength into this northeastern state. The BJP won the election and handed power over to the RSS.

But in less than four years, the BJP's dream was shattered. The saffron party had a good political strategy but failed to understand the sentiments of the community. The factionalism in the party has reached its peak and the BJP has become the enemy of the BJP. Even after Sudip Roy Barman left the BJP party and joined the Congress, there were no signs of a decline in infighting.

Meanwhile, the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress is trying to woo the voters. This party speaks the language of the people, and Banerjee has great mass appeal. If the BJP's infighting continues, the TMC will benefit because, unlike the CPIM and the Congress, Banerjee has become an expert at luring political leaders from other parties. In Tripura, the strength of the Left and Congress is also significant. In such a situation, the BJP wanted to stop the infighting and brought in the new CM.

Changing a chief minister before elections is not unlikely for the Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP has done this in Uttarakhand, Karnataka, and Gujarat. In Tripura, the saffron party followed the same trend, but this decision was not preplanned. For example, just 40 days ago, Manik Saha was nominated to the Upper House of Parliament from Tripura. This raises the question of why, if the BJP had a plan to get him as the CM of the state, did they appoint him to the Rajya Sabha?

However, the ground reality is different. The appointment of Saha has not brought an end to the infighting within the Bharatiya Janata Party‘s Tripura unit. This kind of decision from Delhi does not help to douse the infighting at the state level because the issues are regional, community-centric, and grassroots level.

A significant number of the BJP leaders were unhappy with this decision. There is a growing sense that many BJP leaders who were close to Biplab Deb might leave the party and join other political parties like the (Congress or the normal Congress). Significantly, during the oath-taking ceremony of Manik Saha, several MLAs and cabinet members of Dev were absent. It is also important to note that the deputy chief minister of the Biplab Deb cabinet, Jishnu Deb Barman, was also absent. This indicates the deplorable organisational condition of the BJP.

The disenchantment of IPFT is a big issue for the BJP because this party has the support of the tribal community. Without the support of the tribals, the return to power for the BJP could be difficult in the state. Meanwhile, the royal family's Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barma's party is also targeting tribal-dominated areas. There is a sense that if the disenchantment of the IPFT does not go away, then they might support Barma's party.

Meanwhile, internal reports of the state reached the central leadership and they panicked. What will the BJP's fate be in Tripura when the time comes? Only time has the answer to this.

But, the lesson for the BJP should be that understanding the ground realities is key to any success. The centralised way of running state units has played havoc on the Congress party, and now the BJP is heading towards the same. The infighting of the Tripura BJP is increasing, the need of the hour is not hasty political decisions but patience and empathy towards the issues they are raising.

(The author is an independent journalist based in Kolkata and a former policy research fellow at the Delhi Assembly Research Center. Views expressed are entirely personal. He tweets at @sayantan_gh)

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