By – RajKumar Bobichand
Amidst the statehood demands in Nagaland and Tripura by the Eastern Nagas and Tipraha indigenous people respectively, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaves no stone unturned to retain power in both the states.
Even as the elections to the State Assemblies of Nagaland and Tripura are scheduled, the demands for Frontier Nagaland and Greater Tipraland are getting momentums and will have a significant impact this time. The political dynamics whic prevailed in 2018 elections in both the states are very different. The ruling BJP’s Government of India and the BJPcannot convince Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO) and Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA; also known as Tipra Motha) which are spearheading statehood demands in Nagaland and Tripura respectively.
In the 2018 elections to the state assemblies of both the states, the BJP managed to win the hearts and minds of the Eastern Nagas and indigenous peoples of Tripura by promising to fulfill their aspirations if BJP comes to the power.
However, the BJP cannot fulfill the aspirations of the statehood demanding peoples in both states though the BJP is in power both in Nagaland as a partner of Nagaland Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) while in Tripura securing 36 seats in the 60-seat state assembly and their ally Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) has eight seats.
Now, even as the Election Commission of India has scheduled Nagaland Assembly election on February 27 and all the political parties in the state gear up for the polls, the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO) expressed its determination to abstain from participating in the forthcoming elections until talks with the Government of India reached a logical conclusion.
According to reports, the decision to abstain was reaffirmed on January 26, the second day of the joint consultative meeting held at Konyak Morung in Dimapur. The ENPO president Tsapikiu Sangtam said the joint consultative meet was attended by leaders of seven eastern tribal bodies, Eastern Nagaland Women’s Organisation (ENWO), Eastern Nagaland Students’ Federation (ENSF) and the Talk Team. He also mentioned that the meeting discussed the proposal of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), adding that a delegation of the ENPO would be meeting the MHA constituted committee soon.
The ENPO president reiterated that the August 26, 2022 resolution to abstain from the assembly election still stands until talks between the MHA team and ENPO reach a logical conclusion. It may be mentioned that the decision of ENPO is fully backed by seven tribal bodies, who have also declared to abstain from election till the demand for ‘Frontier Nagaland’ is met, even as Eastern Nagaland Legislators’ Union (ENLU) has declared its decision to participate in the election.
Though the ENPO does not divulge the details of the meeting, reports said that the meeting has centred on a “blueprint” planned by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs outlining the Government of India’s proposal to the ENPO demand for statehood.
Reports said the so-called “blueprint,” the content of which remains highly confidential, contains a number of proposals from the GoI. The ENPO was reportedly at variance on two points, one of which relates to the offer of greater financial and legislative autonomy over land, resources and development funding to the districts in Eastern Nagaland dominated by the Chang, Konyak, Khiamniungan, Phom, Sangtam, Yimkhiung and Tikhir.
The other relates to the Naga political issue or, in other words, the impact a separate state for Eastern Nagaland would have on the ongoing political negotiations and the imagined outcome of the talks of the GOI with NNPG and NSCN (IM).
However, the ENPO has maintained that their demand should not be mixed up with the Naga political issue, while reiterating that it is wholly related to development and lack thereof in the Eastern Nagaland districts; and their demand and the Nagaland political issue should be kept separate. And the ENPO reportedly wants their demand fulfilled by January 30 after which elections should take place.
Notably, the six eastern districts of Nagaland- Tuensang, Mon, Longleng, Kiphire, Noklak, and Shamator, which are home to the state’s seven tribes who are demanding for a separate state of Frontier Nagaland, have 20 assembly constituencies.
On the other hand, in Tripura, the indigenous Tipraha people’s party TIPRA also known as Tipra Motha chief Pradyot Manikya Debbarma on January 27 announced that his party will not be allying with any formation in absence of a written assurance accepting their demand of Greater Tipraland, ahead of the Tripura assembly elections scheduled on February 16, 2023.
It may be mentioned that Pradyot’s father Kirit Bikram Manikya, though a minor at the time, was the king of Tripura when the independent kingdom merged with India on October 15, 1949. Pradyot himself has served as the working president of the Congress party in Tripura before resigning in September 2019. After leaving the Tripura Congress he leads TIPRA for Tipraland to protect the rights and culture of the indigenous Tipraha people.
According to Pradyot, ‘Greater Tipraland’ will be a separate state carved out of the existing state of Tripura, which is India’s third-smallest state in terms of area. The Greater Tipraland includes the region under Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous district Council (TTAADC) and 36 villages out of it within the Tripura state boundaries.
The new ethnic homeland will primarily be for indigenous communities of the region which have been reduced to a numerical minority due to the influx of displaced Bengalis from East Bengal during Partition.
Another wave of Bengali migrants took refuge in Tripura during the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971. According to the 2011 Census, Bengali was the mother tongue of 24.14 lakh people in Tripura. This represents two-thirds of the 36.74 lakh population then, and nearly three times the 8.87 lakh who speak Kokborok — a language of the Tibeto-Burman family and the mother tongue of the largest tribal group.
Unlike before, in the political context of Tripura, this time TIPRA or Tipra Motha has emerged as an insurmountable political force. Tipra Motha, which has had a meteoric rise since winning 18 of 28 seats in the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) in 2021, has once again brought the demand of Greater Tipraland state to the fore.
Meanwhile, the IPFT is currently in talks with Pradyot for a merger with TIPRA. Since 2021, three IPFT MLAs and one BJP MLA have joined TIPRA.
Therefore, both the ruling BJP and the alliance of Left led by CPI (M) and Congress were keen on having Tipra Motha on board. The Tipra Motha also negotiated with both sides, including a dialogue with Home Minister Amit Shah and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma in Delhi.
TIPRA chief Pradyot Bikram Manikya Debarman said that he has received intimation from the Ministry of Home Affairs that they would like to talk to us on party’s demand for a constitutional solution to demand of Greater Tipraland.
Pradyot met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi on January 25. He also met convenor of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) and Assam Chief Minister and BJP’s acclaimed troubleshooter in the Northeast, Himanta Biswa Sarma. On January 26 there was a meeting of Tipra Motha leaders and BJP leaders in New Delhi.
However, “Contrary to rumours there has been NO talk of seat sharing as reported with any party! We have received intimation from the ministry of home affairs that they would like to talk to us on our demand for a constitutional solution to our demand of Greater Tipraland. We have repeatedly said UNTIL we don’t get a written assurance from GOl on the constitutional solution of our demand we will not go in for any alliance leave alone seat sharing. Please don’t jump the gun and relax -we know how to negotiate for our people to the maximum,” Pradyot said on a Facebook post.
“There will be no compromise on our demand. I can’t betray our cause and our people,” Pradyot said in a video message posted on his social media platform on January 27. He said, the only reason he and his party officials went to Delhi was to hear the Government of India’s stand. “They didn’t give us anything in writing. So let me state this unequivocally there will be no alliance in this election,” Tipra Motha chief Pradyot added.
Pradyot also said that Tipra wants to elevate Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) as a separate state for the tribals. Currently, the TTADC receives two percent of the state budget while it has 40% of the state’s population. The demand is non-negotiable for any alliance.
Further, Tipra Motha chief Pradyot added that many doubted him, though it is only natural since in the last 46-years many regional parties from Tripura had made trips to Delhi returning with some sort of agreement ahead of the elections but after the elections Tripura got nothing. “We shall fight this election to defeat those who are against our demand. Be ready, we may win or lose, but we shall have one last fight,” Pradyot asserted.
Meanwhile, the Left led by CPI (M) is amenable to the demand of Tipra Motha, though their ally the Congress was uncomfortable with it arguing that it will trigger similar demands in several states and thus the Left-Congress alliance also fails to bring TIPRA or Tipra Motha on board.
It may be mentioned that of the 60 assembly constituencies in Tripura, as many as 20 are reserved for Scheduled Tribes, the indigenous Tipraha people. In 2018, eight of these seats were bagged by the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), 10 by the BJP, and two by the CPI (M).
Even as the Union Home Minister Amit Shah along with the experts in the Government of India’s Ministry of Home Affairs and the BJP’s acclaimed trouble shooter of the Northeast Himanta Biswa Sarma cannot convince the ENPO and TIPRA as of now, the BJP wants to retain power in both the states of Nagaland and Tripura.
However, in the current political dynamics in Nagaland and Tripura, the BJP may not win the 2023 elections as easily as it did in 2018 in both the states.
(RajKumar Bobichand is the Senior Editor of Imphal Review of Arts and Politics)