BJP’s replacement of Tripura CM with eye on 2023 polls

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After Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Karnataka, the BJP has changed its Chief Minister in Tripura, months ahead of the Assembly polls in the Northeastern state, with a view on electoral calculations and gains.

The election to the 60-member Tripura Assembly is due in January-February 2023.

Though the script was written in Delhi, the real drama was played in Agartala to overcome the anti-incumbency factor at least eight to nine months ahead of the crucial Assembly polls, which is expected to be multi-cornered between the CPI-M, the Congress, new entrant Trinamool Congress (TMC), besides the ruling BJP.

A year after the BJP-Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) government assumed charge on March 9, 2018, ending the 25-year rule of the Left Front, Tripura has witnessed waves of revolt by dissident BJP MLAs led by Sudip Roy Barman against Biplab Kumar Deb, who also subsequently announced to obtain a people’s mandate by calling a public meeting.

His move was later cancelled following the intervention of the Central BJP leadership.

Amid open resentment by a section of the ruling BJP MLAs and leaders in Tripura, the Cabinet expansion took place on August 31, 2021, by inducting three ministers even as the dissident MLAs and BJP leaders boycotted that swearing-in-ceremony.

The dissidence in May 2019 was sparked off after the State Health and Family Welfare and the Information Technology Minister Roy Barman was sacked following differences with Deb.

Sudip Roy Barman, six other MLAs and many leaders had quit the Congress in 2016 to join the TMC and next year (2017) they joined the BJP and helped it win the Assembly elections in 2018.

However, then, Sudip Roy Barman and Ashis Kumar Saha, who resigned from the state Assembly and the BJP on February 7, 2022, rejoined the Congress in New Delhi on February 8.

Earlier, BJP MLA Ashish Das, after openly criticising the saffron party and its leadership, including Deb, joined the TMC on October 31, 2021, following which he was disqualified from the state Assembly.

Following the tumult, several senior Central BJP leaders on a number of occasions visited Tripura to quell the internal dispute and plug the shortcomings, both in the government and the party organisation.

Political Commentator and Editor of Tripura’s leading English daily “North East Colors”, Sanjib Deb said that it is clear and loud that though removed from the post of Chief Minister, Biplab Kumar Deb is not going to be dumped, rather the steering is going to remain with him.

“After submitting the resignation, Deb told the media that he is going to remain with the party organisation. What is most important is that in the meeting of the BJP Legislature Party on Saturday, Biplab Kumar Deb had proposed the name of Manik Saha while the Deputy Chief Minister Jishnu Dev Varma seconded it,” he told IANS.

He said when Biplab Kumar Deb became the Chief Minister, there were talks in Tripura that the government is the BJP’s, Council of Ministers are from Congress (as most Ministers are from the party) and administration is of the CPI-M (as the officials were recruited during the 25 years of Left Front government).

Political analyst and writer Sekhar Datta said the change of Chief Ministership in Tripura was long overdue.

“BJP has taken the decision to avoid the anti-incumbency issues eight to nine months before the crucial Assembly elections. The BJP retained power in Assam (2021) and Manipur (2022) in the Assembly polls. So retaining power in Tripura in the 2023 polls is a vital issue for the saffron party to keep its aim ‘Congress Mukt Northeast region’.”

Local print and electronic media mostly welcomed the BJP’s decision and criticised Deb’s style of functioning.

Editor of Tripura’s leading vernacular daily ‘Syandan Patrika’, Subal Kumar Dey said he had written in April 2020 about “Deb’s autocratic governance”.

“Only due to Deb’s dictatorial style of work and undemocratic mindset, three BJP MLAs were forced to leave the party weakening the organisation and the government,” Dey told IANS.

BJP sources said Biplab Kumar Deb will be Tripura BJP President as the incumbent Manik Saha had to quit the post on becoming the Chief Minister.

RSS loyalist Deb became the state BJP President in January 2015, a year after he returned to the state after spending many years outside it.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at sujit.c@ians.in)

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