Political Dissent ‘Rears Head’ as Manik Saha Takes Oath as Tripura CM; Will the Dentist Bring Smile to Irked Leaders?

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Manik Saha took oath as the Chief Minister of Tripura on Sunday, even as political dissent over the dentist’s selection for the top post seemed to kept its head present at the highly watched ceremony. Saha has now replaced the younger Biplab Kumar Deb, who resigned on Saturday in a surprise move being seen by many here as a `brand renewal exercise’ by the BJP in this strategic, gateway state in the North East.

“We will move forward with the aim of development led by PM Modi and the BJP. We’ll also enhance law and order in the state along with resolving the issues of the people of Tripura. There’s no political challenge for us,” Saha said after his oath-taking.

However, not everyone is happy with Saha’s selection. Jishnu Dev Varma, the Deputy Chief Minister, on Sunday removed his designation from his Twitter account hours before the swearing-in ceremony. According to sources, the leader is unhappy with the developments in Tripura.

But he is not the only one. After the BJP legislature party meeting when Deb announced Saha’s name, dramatic scenes were witnessed at the BJP headquarters in the state. Minister Ram Prasad Paul spoke out against the proposal, sparking a heated debate among MLAs. Before the problem was resolved, Paul also smashed a couple of chairs. A video has surfaced of him yelling and slamming a chair on the ground. He can be heard constantly screaming, “Main mar jaunga (I shall die).”

According to reports, Paul was said to prefer Jishnu Dev Varma, a member of the former Tripura royal family, to be the state’s next chief minister. However, both Paul and Varma were present at the oath-taking ceremony on Sunday. But several Congress leaders and the entire Left were absent during the oath-taking.

Reports said the move to replace Deb came after an analysis sent by the RSS to BJP’s central leadership indicated there was a need for a change of guard in the party and government. Sources told News18 that eleven new faces might feature in the Saha ministry, adding that Biplab might either be given the responsibility of party President or be sent to the Rajya Sabha.

‘A Renewal Exercise’ Through Saha

Saha, a maxillofacial surgeon, who passed out from King George Medical College of Lucknow was a member of the opposition Congress before he joined BJP in 2016 and became the President of BJP’s Tripura unit in 2020 after Deb quit that post. A former badminton player of repute in the state, Saha is also the President of Tripura Cricket Association.

However, his importance to BJP stems from his clean image and his track record which includes crafting BJP’s victory in all thirteen civic bodies in the polls held in November 2021 in Tripura at a time when TMC was engaged in a turf war with the saffron party.

PTI quoted highly placed sources in the ruling party as saying the move was required for immediate strengthening of the party when the organization was not in good shape ahead of elections to the state assembly due within the next 8-9 months. Party insiders said the situation was unravelling at the ground level workers as a section of young workers, dubbed the bike gang’, were engaged acts of high-handedness, which was tarnishing the image of the party.

Senior leaders were repeatedly dispatching letters to the central leadership on the issue.

However, what was really was giving a nightmare to the party was the sudden rise of the Tripura Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance or TIPRA Motha, a regional political party led by the royal scion Pradyot Kishore Debbarma, seeking a separate state for the indigenous people of Tripura.

Poll Rout

The party swept the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) elections held in April last year, winning 18 of the 28 seats over the ‘Greater Tipraland’ demand in a direct contest with the ruling BJP-IPFT alliance. The statehood demand may affect results in many assembly seats, where tribals hold considerable clout electorally.

The TIPRA Motha had completely polarized the state’s politics by raising the demand for separate tribal state and triggered tensions in some mixed pockets of the state, where the tribals account for a third of the population. Moreover, the tribal party has threatened to field candidates in at least 25 general seats out of the total forty general seats. With tribals accounting for a significant section of the votes in these seats, it would mean Debbarma’s support could well hold the key to the next elections.

BJP’s tribal ally, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), could not secure a single seat in the last tribal council elections and moreover it recently suffered a vertical split and was divided under the leadership of two incumbent ministers. Under the circumstances, the saffron party decided to strengthen its party organizationally and go in for a rejig of leadership in its tribal wing, Janajati Morcha.

Whether the amiable Saha will be able to tackle the diverse issues left behind by his predecessor and steer BJP to a clear victory or whether the rejuvenated Left or the incoming TMC in collaboration with the young royal’s party will be able to snatch a win is of course something which only time will tell.

With inputs from PTI

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