In 1993, the first and, until now, only tribal chief minister of Tripura, Dasarath Deb, assumed office. Deb, who eventually joined the CPI(M), had co-founded the Ganamukti Parishad (GMP) in 1945 in reaction to the “feudalistic” royal house of Tripura. Most GMP members and leaders were tribals and the party espoused the tribal cause. Thirty years on, it is election time again. This time though, a member of the erstwhile royal family, Pradyot Bikram Manikya Debbarma, is the evangelist figure for the Tiprasa people. The day Tripura went to polls, Prasun Chaudhuri spoke to the Tipra Motha chief who, according to his Twitter bio, is also a “wannabe mimicry ’n’ magician artist”.
Q: The polling percentage has been quite high...
Tripura has a history of high voter turnout. In the 2018 Assembly elections, it was 88 per cent. The percentage this time is lower, but that’s not the point. In those areas where tribals and Muslims constitute the majority of voters, voting percentage has been higher than the rest of the state. This is quite worrying. We need to thoroughly analyse this and understand the reason. It needs to be examined as it is beyond me.
Q: You had predicted a hung Assembly in a public rally. Are you still standing by that?
I wouldn’t comment on this at this stage. It’s too early to make such speculation. I am more worried about the voting percentage in areas where non-tribal and non-Muslim people were the majority voters.
Q: Nevertheless, if the outcome is fractured, your party may play a crucial role. Will you lend support to the Left-Congress combine or the NDA? Will you or your party play the kingmaker’s role?
I think these speculations are irrelevant at this moment. Eventually, the people of Tripura will decide. I am only concerned about the fundamental rights of the people, the constitutional rights of our people.
Q: In the run-up to the elections you spoke about Greater Tipraland, which is a separate state. Later, you modified this to a demand for an autonomous council. What do you have in mind?
We are looking for a constitutional solution to our demand. A constitutional solution means complete political independence or total autonomy. That does not necessarily mean a geographical division of Tripura.
Q: Why did you leave the Congress in 2019?
I broke away because I was never given the space I looked for to express my views. Neither the local leadership nor the central leadership of the Congress party backed the issues I thought we needed to pursue. I felt frustrated. So I quit the Congress and formed the Tipra Motha.
Q: The BJP/NDA tried to negotiate with your party for a pre-poll alliance. Why did that not materialise?
I am not ready for any negotiations unless something concrete is given to the people. I am not here to negotiate a personal post or petty favours. My aim is always to deliver something to the people, get their demands fulfilled.
Q: In a couple of recent rallies, you said you were going to quit active politics. That’s quite a perplexing decision. If you quit now that will be tantamount to betraying your people.
I never said I am going to quit active politics. I never decided to run away from active politics. What I meant was that I am not here to chase electoral politics. I will always remain an active member of the party till we attain a constitutional solution to the demands of our people. What I actually said was that I am not going to seek the pompous chair of the chief minister or any other minister or office. I’d rather consciously keep our movement alive. Because we are a movement and not just a party.
Q: How good is your relationship with Himanta Biswa Sarma?
I have a relationship with him which is as good as a relationship with Rahul Gandhi or Priyanka Gandhi. As good as my equation with Aaditya Thackeray, as good as my relationship with Mamatadidi, or any other politician. But personal friendships are not bigger than one’s politics or political standpoint.