On Tripura’s Tribal Politics and the Failed Coup in IPFT


In what could only be said 'out of the blue', a section of leaders of the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT) – arguably the state's strongest tribal political party in recent years, tried to oust its founder president over charges of bribes and financial misappropriation. Before 48 hours were out, the octagenerian lashed back, expelling all the 7 rebels. Between the rebellion and its punishment, Debraj Deb of The Northeast Today (TNT) tries to find out what happened.

 In a stunning turnaround, Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT) President NC Debbarma on March 25 expelled seven leaders of the party on charges of anti-party activities.

It was only 48 hours since he was supposedly 'suspended' by a group of leaders whom he himself appointed in their respective positions.

The expelled leaders include party's vice presidents Budhu Kumar Debbarma and Aghore Debbarma, Assistant General Secretaries Benoy Debbarma, Rajeshwar Debbarma and Prabir Kalai, Subodh Debbarma and Nakshatra Jamatia.

The expelled seven had earlier tried to pull out a coup d'état inside the party two days back by suspending its founder president and ideologue NC Debbarma on charges of accepted bribes from BJP and financial misappropriation.

Speaking to the media after a crucial meeting with IPFT leaders from across the state on March 25, NC Debbarma stated that over 550 party supporters joined the meeting. The meeting was also joined by workers of different frontal organizations of the party including IWFT – its womens' brigade, the Youth IPFT, ATISA, TFD and their employees front TUKS and All Tripura Nationalist Teachers Association.

"It was a marathon meeting and all the party workers unequivocally proposed that we expel the party leaders who conspired against our cause. We have expelled them indefinitely", the veteran tribal leader said.

When asked if he sensed the hand of any other party behind his colleagues' betrayal, NC Debbarma said it was very likely.

"We are still looking into the possibility. But yes, there might be such an angle to it", Debbarma added.

IPFT leaders Aghore Debbarma, Binoy Debbarma and Budhu Debbarma announced on March 23 that they had decided to suspend party president NC Debbarma. The leaders accused that NC Debbarma maintained double standard over the demand of separate state for Tripura's indigenous populace.

"He and his disciples have secretly formulated the modalities for State Council. They have met with Rampada Jamatia to discuss formalities related to the impractical proposal of formulating a State Council", Budhu had announced.

Significantly, two of the leaders who were expelled from IPFT in NC Debbarma's return salvo, were turncoats themselves and were essentially bought into a larger party. Assistant General Secretary Rajeshwar Debbarma, former firebrand youth leader in the Indigenous Nationalist Part of Twipra (INPT) defected into IPFT in October, 2015.

Budhu Debbarma, a repeat-turncoat himself, had earlier worked with INPT, NSPT and other political parties. A man who chose to change allegiance according to benefit, Budhu Debbarma is seen as the man who executed the coup in IPFT.

However, the mastermind of designing the ouster of NC Debbarma is not exposed. Well, not just yet.

The rebellious IPFT leaders had alleged that NC Debbarma betrayed the cause of Tipraland in the process of championing State Council, acting hand in gloves with BJP leader Rampada Jamatia.

Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) issued a statement saying that they had given Rs. 2 lakhs to IPFT President NC Debbarma.

State Treasurer of BJP Srijit Kumar Banerjee issued a statement saying that his party had handed over Rs. 2 lakhs for the Simna-Tamakari ADC by-election to NC Debbarma as financial help as per the party's central leader's instruction.

The allegations seemed quite tight.

However, reacting to the accusations, IPFT supremo NC Debbarma today rubbished all allegations as false and baseless.

"This is a conspiracy hatched to frustrate our potential demand of Tipraland", he said.

Debbarma added that it was surprising that the BJP had issued such a statement, since there were no such financial transactions. "They should have known", he mused.

For those who know Narendra Chandra Debbarma or simply 'NC' as he is called, he might be a hundred other things. But NC is not a corrupt person, veteran Congress leader Tapas De said.

The catch is that for the first time, BJP had admitted to have paid money to other parties during election for support in the name of financial help. Nothing could possibly justify the claim of BJP of paying Rs. 2 lakhs to a regional political party in which it had earlier staged a candidate itself.

BJP had set up a candidate at the Simna-Tamakari by-election before it pulled down the candidate and paid a hefty amount to a small tribal party. The mystery only got deeper with the party's admission of the payment.

Few days back, BJP Tripura state president Biplab Kumar Deb said that forming the All Tripura Indigenous Regional Parties Forum (ATIRPF) had marred the political potential of IPFT.

"They had separated themselves on the demand of statehood for the indigenous people. The apple of discord of IPFT with other tribal parties hinged on this single point. But their coming together in the name of ATIRPF has exposed that their expectations aren't genuine", Deb told this correspondent.

He commented that ATIRPF had destroyed the possibilities for IPFT since it exposed the latter's priority to power more than anything else.

What surprised the most was that IPFT leaders, who tried the coup against their supremo on March 23, spoke in the exact same syntax.

"We don't obey any Forum. We want Tipraland and we shall move ahead with our objective. NC Debbarma is trying to compromise with our demand and we have decided to suspend him", Aghore, Budhu and others said.

Out of 60 assembly constituency seats in Tripura, 20 are reserved for Scheduled Tribe (ST) candidates. Among the rest, electoral victory in 16 heavily depends on tribal votes, making tribal voters an indispensable factor for assuming power in the state.

For reasons that are still debated, Tripura's tribal voters have significantly swung towards IPFT ever since it resurfaced in 2009.

IPFT's previous episode in the 2000 when it stormed to power in the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) was brilliantly handled by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) from behind. The party was split into several factions like NSPT due to internal feuds which were arguably planted by the communists. The result was a whole decade of tribal parties sparring among themselves.

In such a juncture, IPFT emerged as saviour for the cause of tribal solidarity, that so many others like TNV, TUJS have earlier failed to deliver.

CPI (M) general secretary Bijan Dhar recently acknowledged BJP and IPFT as sole threats to its existence in Tripura.

"There is this design of disturbing peace and tranquillity in the state from divisive forces like IPFT and communal forces like the BJP", Dhar had said.

Speaking on the issue, veteran Congress leader and former MLA Tapas De said that the attempt to create split within IPFT was actually part of a larger plot.

"Both CPI (M) and BJP could be equally responsible behind this game. Both would gain a lot if IPFT came to face split", De said.

He added that though the communists won in 19 out of 20 ST reserved assembly constituency seats of Tripura in the last assembly polls in 2013, the party seriously lacked any popular face.

Perhaps that's the reason the Communists here convened a hurried secret meeting after the news of NC Debbarma's ouster became public. Though the party didn't announce anything in public, sources deep inside the ruling left front had informed that offers were made to NC Debbarma to join the Gana Mukti Parishad (GMP), comrades of communists in Tripura, who took active role in creating discontent against the monarchal rulers during pre-1949 princely regime.

Needless to say, NC declined the offer; rather chose to return fire on his rebels.

Speaking on the trend of horse trading of leaders ahead of the coming 2018 assembly election in Tripura, Tapas De said that BJP was trying to replicate its horse trading model from Manipur and Goa in Tripura. "This is a dangerous trend for the spirit of democracy", he observed.

In a significant statement, De said that former union minister and Congress leader Santosh Mohan Deb had started the system of buying leaders and MLAs for the first time in Tripura. The practice was now championed by the BJP, De said.

In Tripura's non-tribal belts, BJP has already gained considerable ground by roping in senior leaders like Subal Bhowmik, Ratan Chakraborty and others. However, when it comes to tribal votes, the saffron party hasn't been successful to manage any breakthrough till date.

They roped in Rampada Jamatia, senior leader of the Jamatia community and former secretary of Jamatia Hoda – their premier organization. But the tribal leader didn't really work out so well since there are so many other tribal clans in the state. Each of these clans claims their hierarchy in the state's indigenous community and leaders from no one clan would be effective on the others save members of the Tripura royal family. Besides, the royal family has outright rejected offers from the BJP in the past.

Hence, the ploy to dismantle IPFT and get its leaders arranged conveniently within the BJP rank and file was not much of a surprise. The catch is that NC Debbarma has now vowed to see till the end of the conspiracy. And let's hope that he doesn't dig up snakes while searching for worms.

-By Debraj Deb for TNT- The Northeast Today News

The writer can be contacted at debrajdeb@outlook.com