Chairman of Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance wants a separate state carved out of Tripura.


New Delhi: The chairman of Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (Tipra Motha), Pradyot Kishore Manikya Debbarman, spoke to The Sunday Guardian on the demand to seek separate statehood from Tripura and why it was something that Government of India should agree to. Widely expected to do well in next year’s Assembly elections, he said that the biggest political challenge to the BJP would be from the BJP and not the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC. Edited excerpts:
Q: What is the biggest challenge that you see for the Tipra Motha with the elections in the state less than 10 months away?
A: The biggest challenge I see for Tipra Motha is similar to any organization that is young, which is to stay committed, focused, and not get into negativities. We are a party that offers hope to the younger generation, to the women and to the people who need constitutional empowerment and if we need to achieve our results, then we need to be positive in our politics and not get dragged into dirty mudslinging; which the other parties would like us to get into. I think that is the biggest challenge and also the biggest success of ours.
Q: Your biggest political plank is a separate Tripura or what is called Tipraland. Don’t you think it is a demand that is something that no Central government can accede to primarily because it will lead to similar demands from other parts of India and secondly considering the strategic location of Tripura?
A: Government of India should in fact accede to our demand primarily for the very reasons you have raised in your question. Strategically, Tripura is a very sensitive area, if tomorrow there is a turmoil in the neighbouring Bangladesh as has been in Sri Lanka, there would be large scale influx of people coming to the Northeast.
Northeast has always been an extremely fragile ground where foreign hands and foreign forces have always played an extremely negative impact. If there is a problem in this strategic part of India, you would need to have the Central government to have their own intelligence input rather than depending on the inputs from the state government which will also be sensitive towards people from across Bangladesh because of the socio-cultural proximity.
Hence, I think that the demand for a constitutional solution to Tipraland is something that Government of India should fulfil not only from the political point of view, but also from the point of view which was executed in the case of Leh-Ladakh where the people have been given a certain amount of Constitutional guarantee because ethnically, culturally, linguistically they are different from the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
We are not asking for something that is outside the purview of the Constitution of India. I think Government of India should look at our problem in a similar way to that of Leh-Ladakh. Also, a similar thinking should be applied on the issue of Gorkhaland.
Q: Tripura has massive unemployment; its poverty rate is among the highest in the country. Will you agree that these are issues that need to be addressed more urgently rather than talking about the emotive issue of Tipraland? Are you and your party working on a concrete idea/plan on how to address the issue of unemployment and poverty, among others?
A: I think it is extremely rich to say that the issue of Tipraland is just an emotive one. Then, in that case, you should not be talking about the creation of Bundelkhand because Uttar Pradesh is extremely poor and needs development, similar can be said for Harit Pradesh.
In that case, even Jharkhand should not have been created. I think these are not emotive issues for people of Tripura, the issue of Tipraland is about survival and existence. Not everything is about emotions and winning elections. It is also about protecting a civilisation, a culture, a group of people who have remained independent for thousands of years and suddenly feel that their language, their culture and their identity are under threat. These are important issues which may be the rest of India does not understand.
Q: I have been talking to locals, journalists, opinion makers and all of them agree that your party will do well in the forthcoming elections. Perceptions aside, does Tipra Motha have the resources that the BJP, the political acumen that the Congress, the cadre of the Left or the charisma that Mamata Banerjee have to stand up to these formidable opponents?
A: Since you have spoken to so many people, you can understand that Mamata has had the charisma since 1998; she has made three forays into Tripura and each time she has been unsuccessful. In fact, she has failed to even open her account. The BJP has had resources since 2014 and despite that we won the district council election last year. The political acumen of the Congress is something that I am very well aware of because I have been a part of them for 18-19 years and that acumen is now only restricted to the Congress. The cadre of the Left has completely eroded, like in West Bengal. So, I wonder which journalists you have spoken to, but they are definitely not journalists. You must have spoken to certain people who are beneficiaries or relics of the Left and Congress rule which was in power for 30 years.
Q: As of today, apart from your party, the election will see BJP, Congress, Trinamool Congress, CPI(M) fighting with each other to attract the voters of Tripura. Whom do you consider among the above parties as the most formidable opponent?
Q: The most formidable opponent I think would be the BJP because they have the resources. They also have an extremely competent social media team, which looks more into deconstructing an opponent rather than concentrating on their own achievement. Also, they have a leadership which will descend upon Tripura before the elections and offer a host of promises. But the fact is that when the opponent is the most formidable, it is then Tipra Motha rises to the occasion.
Q: The BJP changed its CM Biplab Deb as he had attracted massive anti-incumbency. How do you see this move? Did it surprise you? And has it improved the situation of BJP in the state?
A: I don’t think the BJP changed CM Biplab Deb because he had attracted anti-incumbency. I think he was removed for reasons more than that and for this you have to ask the BJP and not us. However, I was not surprised because there have been many challenges to the CM and in Tripura it is a very well-known fact that the BJP has many factions. I don’t think the situation will improve or deteriorate anymore for the BJP in the state because their performance in the last four-and-a-half years cannot be undone or improved upon in the next six months.
Q: An uncomfortable fact is that the “smaller” regional parties across India don’t have much presence when it comes to elected representatives, which has led to the “Delhi media” and political observers based in Delhi writing off these parties. How would you respond to these observations?
A: I think the word “Delhi media” is very appropriate because they operate in the NCR (National Capital Region), but India is much more than the NCR, which excites certain people who hang around a certain group in a certain area of Delhi.
Small regional parties may not have a presence in terms of occupying the mind space, but you also need to realise there is an India beyond Delhi. There is an India which actually has always proved so called “comfortable people in Delhi media” wrong. Maybe the people from Delhi, the media from Delhi also need to travel across the rest of India before they can be termed as national media. Till the time they stick to a few individuals in Delhi, they will never be called national media by people like us. This is what Delhi media is, this is what exactly Delhi media is.