Newly formed political party Tipra Motha is likely to emerge as the kingmaker after the Tripura assembly polls, in which it will fight a triangular contest with the Bharatiya Janata Party-Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (BJP-IPFT) and Congress-Left Front alliances.
Tipra Motha, headed by erstwhile royal scion Pradyot Manikya Debbarma, refused to stitch an alliance with either the BJP or foes-turned-friends Congress and Left Front but has not shunned the possibility of a post-poll coalition with any party that supports its demand for a separate state of Greater Tipraland.
Banking on its stupendous performance in the 2021 Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) polls, in which it bagged 18 of the 30 seats in the body, Tipra Motha has decided to go solo and hopes to sweep the 20 tribal-dominated seats that hold the key to power in the northeastern state that has a 60-member assembly.
The BJP, on the other hand, is not leaving anything to chance, and has decided to contest 55 seats, leaving only five seats for alliance partner IPFT, which has ceded much ground to Tipra Motha in the tribal areas as the newly formed outfit raised the demand for Greater Tipraland statehood.
The alliance partners will witness a friendly fight in Ampinagar assembly seat in Gomati district as IPFT will contest a total of six constituencies in the February 16 polls.
In the 2018 assembly polls, in which the BJP-IPFT combine ended the 25-year-long rule of the Left Front, the saffron party had bagged 36 seats, including 10 ST reserved constituencies, while its alliance partner had bagged eight seats.
However, the IPFT began losing public support after failing to deliver its core demand of Tipraland state, and instead agreeing to a common minimum programme of the BJP under which the Centre constituted a panel for socio-economic and linguistic development of the tribals, political observers said.
The IPFT, which once played a key role in eroding the Left Front's traditional tribal vote bank, over the last two-and-half-years suffered loss of support base as Tipra Motha began harping on the demand for Greater Tipraland, a separate state carving out tribal areas of Tripura.
Political observers believe that Tipra Motha's popularity rose not only because it raised the separate statehood demand but also because tribals still revere the erstwhile royal family and they refer to Pradyot Debbarma as 'Bubagra' or king.
Seeing Tipra Motha's rise in the tribal area, the Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Congress, rivals that joined hands, and even the BJP sought an electoral adjustment with the regional party but failed due to Debbarma's uncompromising attitude towards the Greater Tipraland demand, the political observers said.
BJP leader and poll strategist Balai Goswami asserted that in an event of a triangular contest, the saffron party has an edge over the Tipra Motha and Congress-Left Front alliance as anti-BJP votes will get split among them.
"For the first time, a regional party is going solo in the state. The BJP is expected to do better in the hills and it also has a solid base in the plains. We expect our party's tally to increase in this election," he told PTI.
Senior CPI-M leader Pabitra Kar said the Congress-Left alliance is expected to gain in the fight between Tipra Motha and the BJP as the saffron party's alliance partner IPFT has lost its strength in the hills, but the CPI-M still has its loyal supporters in the tribal areas.
"In the 2018 polls, the IPFT had not only bagged eight seats but also helped the BJP win 10 constituencies in the hills. But this time, who will help the saffron party get the blessings of the indigenous voters?" he said.
Party spokesperson Anthony Debbarma said Tipra Motha will emerge as the kingmaker, bagging at least 25-26 seats.
"Since the stage is set for a triangular contest in almost all the assembly seats, Tipra Motha will be the gainer in the polls. We will not only win the tribal-dominated seats but also some non-tribal constituencies," he said.
Prominent Tipra Motha leader Tapas Dey said the party had appealed to anti-BJP forces to come under one umbrella but neither the Left nor the Congress could commit to Greater Tipraland.
"Also, voters of the CPI-M and the grand old party are confused over whom to vote in the scenario of changed political alignment," he said.
The Tipra Motha will contest 42 of the 60 seats in the state.
According to the seat adjustment, the CPI-M will contest 43 seats, and its Left Front partners the Forward Block, the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Communist Party of India one each.
The Left Front is also supporting an independent candidate in Ramnagar constituency in West Tripura.
The Congress will contest 13 seats, the Trinamool Congress 28, while there are also 58 Independent candidates.
Veteran journalist and political analyst Sekhar Dutta said Tipra Motha's entry into the electoral battle is going to hurt the BJP's poll prospects in the tribal areas as demonstrated in the TTAADC polls of 2021.
"Tipra Motha will certainly perform well in TTAADC areas banking on its Greater Tipraland demand, while the BJP is unlikely to retain its tally of 10 ST seats due to the regional outfit's growing popularity among tribal voters.
"Moreover there are six to eight non-reserved seats where tribal voters are the deciding factor. Hence, the BJP has to win more seats in the plains if it wants to retain power," he added.