BJP supporters during a Narendra Modi rally in Gohpur, Assam. (Image: BJP, Twitter)
On September 7, The Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (Tipra) of Tripura and the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) joined hands to launch a political initiative in the North-East. At a low-key function held in Guwahati, Assam, leaders of the two groups indicated that the primary objective of the alliance, which is expected to enlist more parties, would be to checkmate the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s rising graph in the region, and protect the interests of the indigenous communities.
So, what are the prospects of the alliance in the North-East?
The driving force of the new initiative came from Pradyot Manikya Debburman, head of the Tripura royal family, and chairman of Tipra that swept the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) elections last April, winning 18 of the 28 seats that went to the polls. Tipra was able to score a hit in the council polls as it was able to rope in many tribal parties, and its campaigning struck a chord with the indigenous communities. Debburman, who is a former state Congress president, was able to convince the tribal communities that his party was more serious in protecting their interests than the others.
For the assembly polls in Tripura to be held in 2023, Debburman announced that he was open to an alliance with West Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the state. Certainly, the prospects of the alliance appear bright in Tripura. Tipra’s forte lies in the 20 reserved seats in the state out of a total of 60 in the assembly. This apart, tribal communities are a deciding factor in another eight seats where the party is expected to perform well. Tipra’s key contender in the tribal areas is the Left; neither the BJP nor the Congress has a base among the tribals. The ruling TMC in West Bengal is making a serious bid to gain a foothold in the North-East, but despite making its presence felt, it is struggling to find a leader in Tripura who could be projected as the face of the party.
However, the situation may not be as inspiring for the new alliance in the rest of the North-eastern states. The poll bugle has already been sounded in Manipur which goes to the polls in early 2022. The contest is expected to be tough as in the previous elections when the Congress emerged as the single-largest party but was unable to form the government. Factionalism is rife among both the BJP and the Congress in Manipur and the possibility of functionaries switching sides cannot be ruled out. Nonetheless, the political space is occupied with the National People’s Party also expected to make serious efforts to increase its tally next year.
The new alliance has demanded immediate repeal of the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), and update of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) on which the government is yet to issue a notification. Tipra has also backed the demand for implementation of the Assam Accord in letter and spirit. All these issues certainly have an appeal with a large section of people in Assam, as was evident in the agitation against the CAA two years ago.
Still, the BJP-led alliance managed to perform well in Assam in both the general elections in 2019 and the assembly polls in 2020. The AJP-Raijor Dal combine was expected to wrest a few seats in the Assamese heartland, but it could win in only one out of the total 126 seats. The Raijor Dal has since been engaged in discussions with the Congress for a pre-poll alliance to take on the BJP for the forthcoming by-elections to six assembly seats. Therefore, the AJP could be alone, and face an uphill task in Assam to make a breakthrough in the given circumstances.
Similarly, the political spectrum in the rest of the hill states does not offer a huge scope for a new alliance to reap major dividends in a brief span. It would have to identify key constituencies, be able to project itself as a viable alternative, and firm up further alliances with local parties. In Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, it has been a contest so far either between the Congress and the BJP, or between a regional and a national party.
Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior journalist in Guwahati. Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.