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Coalition compulsion

Cracks have surfaced in the ruling coalition in Tripura of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) ahead of the elections to the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTADC).


Sentinel Digital Desk

Cracks have surfaced in the ruling coalition in Tripura of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT) ahead of the elections to the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTADC). The IPFT has joined hands with the Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA) for the TTADC polls scheduled to be held in May. Elections to the tribal autonomous council bears political significance in the state's electoral politics as 20 of the total 60 seats in the Tripura Assembly is reserved for Schedule Tribes who enjoy autonomy under the Sixth Schedule in TTADC areas. In the 44-member ruling coalition government in the State, the BJP has 36 legislators and the IPFT has eight legislators. The BJP has absolute majority in the House and the rift will not create any political instability. However, any consolidation of IPFT and its new ally TIPRA in TTADC areas has the potential to pose tough electoral challenge to the BJP. Ten of the 36 Assembly seats held by the BJP are reserved for ST which does not allow the major ruling constituent to ignore the political development. The IPFT skipping a joint meeting with the BJP to hold a joint rally with TIPRA in TTADC headquarters in Khumulwng indicate that the cracks in the ruling coalition are deeper than perceived. The rallying point of the two indigenous parties is the demand for 'Greater Tipraland' which is rooted in marginalization of the indigenous Tripuris due to influx of refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan and later from Bangladesh. Prior to 1951 Census, the indigenous communities were majority. The population of indigenous communities declined to 36.85 per cent in 1951 which further declined to 31.05 in 2001 Census. The fear of marginalization and apprehension over loss of identity is genuine and needs to be addressed though constitutional mechanism of exploring improvement in power-sharing model under which indigenous Tripuris can enjoy more political power and feel secured about existence about their identity, culture, and heritage. Bodo political groups including the armed groups settling for Bodo Territorial Region with more autonomy under amended provisions of the Sixth Schedule in lieu of statehood is a lesson on political realities in the region in respect of statehood demand spurred by identity aspirations. Tripura is on the cusp of restoration of historical land and water connectivity of the Northeast region to the seaports in Bangladesh which were snapped in 1965. The bridge over river Feni in Sabroom in Tripura from which Chittagong port is just 72 km is going to put Tripura at the centre stage of India's Neighbourhood first and become the gateway for the entire northeast region to the waterways in Bay of Bengal. Ensuring that the indigenous communities of Tripura are benefited by such connectivity projects will go a long way in strengthening the bond between the tribal and non-tribal communities in the state bordering Bangladesh. The TTADC has 7132 square km which is about 68 per cent of Tripura's total area. It has a population of 12,65,838 which is 34.45 per cent of total population in the state. The issue of upgrading TTADC into a territorial council has been put in the backburner and the political developments in the state may see the issue returning the centre stage. The coalition government approved the decision to make it a territorial council with a demarcated territory and provide more autonomy and financial powers to it on the line of Bodoland Territorial Region. Elections to the TTADC were postponed in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic initially and placed under Governor's Rule for a period of six months after the term of the elected council expired. The Governor's Rule was extended for another period of six months but consequent to a petition challenging the state government's decision the Tripura High Court directed holding of the elections to the tribal autonomous council at the earliest. There are indications that IPFT may delay meeting with BJP till the TTADC polls are over. The outcome of the TTADC polls, therefore, will have direct bearing on the BJP-TTADC relation which became more strained due to failure of the two parties to reach agreement over seat sharing. The BJP is not likely to let the development reach the brink of collapse as it will have ramification in the North East Democratic Alliance led by the party. The compilation of a National Register of Citizens for Indian citizens in Tripura as crucial as in Assam with both the states sharing the same experience of unabated migrations from across the India-Bangladesh border giving rise to plethora of problems and posing existential threat to indigenous communities. Ruling coalitions in both the states have constitutional and political obligations to find permanent solutions to these problems to ensure sustainable peace so that there can be accelerated progress in development-deficit region.

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