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

Manik Saha took the oath as Chief Minister of Tripura on Sunday, even when political dissent regarding the dentist’s election to the highest post seemed to keep his head present at the much-watched ceremony. Saha has now replaced the younger Biplab Kumar Deb, who resigned on Saturday in a surprising move that is seen by many here as a “brand renewal exercise” by the BJP in this strategic gateway state in the northeastern part of the country.

“We will move forward with the development goal led by PM Modi and the BJP. We will also strengthen law and order in the state along with solving the problems of the people of Tripura. There is no political challenge for us,” Saha said after taking the oath.

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

But he is not the only one. After the BJP’s legislative party meeting when Deb announced Saha’s name, dramatic scenes were witnessed at the BJP’s headquarters in the state. Minister Ram Prasad Paul spoke out against the proposal and sparked a heated debate among Members. Before the problem was solved, Paul also smashed a couple of chairs. A video has surfaced where he screams and hits a chair on the ground. He can be heard constantly shouting, “Main mar jaunga (I’m going to die).”

According to reports, Paul would prefer Jishnu Dev Varma, a member of the former royal family Tripura, as the state’s next prime minister. However, both Paul and Varma were present at the oath ceremony on Sunday. But several congressional leaders and the entire left were absent during the oath.

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

“A Renewal Exercise” by Saha

Saha, a maxillofacial surgeon who fainted from King George Medical College in Lucknow, was a member of the Opposition Congress before joining BJP in 2016 and became president of BJP’s Tripura unit in 2020 after Deb left that post. A former state-respected badminton player, Saha is also president of the Tripura Cricket Association.

But his importance to the BJP stems from his pure image and his track record that includes creating the BJP’s victory in all thirteen civic bodies in the November 2021 referendum held in Tripura at a time when TMC was engaged in a lawn war with the saffron party.

PTI quoted high-ranking sources in the ruling party as saying that the move was required for immediate reinforcement of the party when the organization was not in good shape ahead of elections to the state assembly within the next 8-9 months. Party insiders said that the situation was spreading on ground floor workers because some of the young workers, called the bicycle gang, were involved in high-handedness, which tarnished the image of the party.

Senior leaders repeatedly sent letters to the central leadership on the issue.

What really gave the party a nightmare, however, was the sudden emergence of the Tripura Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance or TIPRA Motha, a regional political party led by the royal family Pradyot Kishore Debbarma, seeking a separate state for the indigenous people of Tripura.

Voting route

The party swept the election in the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) held in April last year and won 18 of the 28 seats over the demand for “Greater Tipraland” in a direct contest with the ruling BJP-IPFT alliance. The requirement for state status can affect the results in many parish places, where tribes have a great influence in the election.

TIPRA Motha had completely polarized state policy by raising the demand for a separate tribal state and triggered tensions in some mixed pockets of the state, where tribal tribes make up a third of the population. In addition, the main party has threatened to field candidates in at least 25 public seats out of a total of forty public seats. With tribes representing a significant proportion of the votes in these seats, it would mean that Debbarma’s support may well hold the key to the next election.

The BJP’s tribal ally, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), could not secure a single seat in the recent tribal council election, and it was recently hit by a vertical split and divided under the leadership of two sitting ministers. Under the circumstances, the saffron party decided to strengthen its party organizationally and advocate for a leadership in its tribal wing, the Janajati Morcha.

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

With input from PTI

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