Manik Saha, tipped to be Tripura’s chief minister for a second term, on Thursday defeated Congress’s veteran leader Ashish Kumar Saha, by a margin of 1,257 votes from Town Bardowali despite detractors within his own party predicting a “tough time” for him in the prestigious constituency. From Saha joining the saffron party in 2016 to being made chief minister last year in a brand renewal exercise, it has been a short but upward journey for the 69-year-old dental surgeon-turned politician.
After BJP’s ideological mentor RSS found out that the previous chief minister Biplab Deb had cost the party a loss in popularity by his brash actions and poor law and order record, alienating many of the saffron party’s supporters, the party big-wigs decided on Saha, a quite and unassuming politician over several other potential rivals including union minister Pratima Bhowmik.
The man who BJP has built up as `Mr Clean’ took over as chief of Tripura’s BJP unit in 2020 and then did a short stint as a member of the Rajya Sabha from April 3 to July 4 last year.
The ride for the greenhorn politician who had earlier been a Congress loyalist has been a dream one in the last six years or so.
Saha, who is an oral and maxillofacial surgery specialist, had won the Town Bardowali seat, located outside the state capital city Agartala, in a by-poll in 2022. Before joining politics, Saha used to teach at Tripura Medical College located in Hapania.
He had only 10 months as the chief minister of the northeastern state after replacing Deb but managed to lift the state government’s image before the February 16 assembly polls.
The “gentleman politician” did his schooling in Tripura in the early 1970's and then went on to do his higher education in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
In January, Saha shared on Twitter how he conducted surgery on a 10-year-old boy after a long time at Tripura Medical College. Netizens praised him for still performing his duties as a doctor and said it was “truly inspiring”. The selection of Dr Saha as Chief Minister by the BJP, had sparked a controversy within the Tripura unit of the BJP with several ministers, MLAs and senior leaders expressing discontent, which never really died down in party circles.
In an interview to PTI in February, Saha said he has been able to gain the people’s faith in just a few months. "Wherever I go, I see people are happy as they have received several benefits from PMAY to piped water to toilets under several flagship programmes. (However) I do believe there is a need to do more in the employment generation segment.
"The overall law and order has improved in the state over the past five years with all types of crime - murder, rape and abduction - coming down drastically. The NCRB reports endorses our view on the law-and-order situation", he had claimed, rubbishing the opposition’s allegations of widespread violence in rural areas as “baseless”.
Asked if he would continue as chief minister after the elections, Saha had made it clear, "It is the party and Modiji who will make the choice. If they think I am the man for the work, I will be picked.... I always prefer to play on a straight bat".
On unfinished commitments, Saha said he will take up the issue of the High Power Modality Committee constituted to look into the socio-economic-linguistic development of the state’s indigenous people as part of the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) contracted by the BJP and IPFT before the 2018 Assembly election with Delhi. The Union Home Ministry has constituted a high-power modality committee but the recommendations of the panel have not been made public yet.
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