In 2020, Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb proposed an ambitious idea – a referendum to decide whether he was the right person to continue as the chief minister. People would gather in a large field in the state capital Agartala and express their decisions by saying “yes” or “no”.
Deb announced this idea soon after a group of Tripura BJP leaders met the party’s national leadership in New Delhi to complain against his’s way of operating. Deb had to cancel his plan, though, after Bharatiya Janata Party’s national leadership rebuked him.
On Saturday, Deb’s first chief ministerial tenure came to an abrupt end without any referendum as he submitted his one-line resignation letter to Governor SN Arya. Deb was “asked” to resign, according to a senior leader of Tripura BJP who did not want to be named.
With the state assembly elections slated in less than a year’s time, the move triggered many speculations behind what may have prompted the BJP leadership to take such a call. The predominant explanation was that it is the BJP top leadership’s way of dealing with anti-incumbency, which a section of BJP leaders thought was growing.
The move was so unexpected that even Deb’s cabinet colleagues had no clue of the development, a senior leader of Tripura BJP said. Deb had met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi on Friday, following which he wrote on Twitter, “Honoured to meet Home Minister of India Adarniya Shri @AmitShah ji at New Delhi today. We had in-depth deliberations regarding development works and organization.”
On Saturday, after tendering his resignation, Deb told media that the party wanted to use him in organisational work.
He told journalists in Agartala, “Party wants me to work to strengthen the organisation. I am always ready to serve the party in whichever role the leaders find me fit.”
In the afternoon, senior BJP leader and Union minister Bhupender Yadav reached Agartala to guide the BJP parliamentary unit to choose the new leader in a meeting in the evening.
Deb, who was the BJP’s Tripura unit president when the saffron party managed to topple the Left Front’s 23-year-old government in 2018, became the state’s first BJP chief minister. However, his tenure had been full of controversies, especially for many of his remarks.
Nevertheless, the BJP swept the Tripura civic elections held earlier this year, partly because neither of the Opposition forces, the Left and the Trinamool Congress, were seen as an able alternative, partly because of political violence and partly because of the split in Opposition votes. Of them, the last issue remained the BJP’s biggest hope – a split in Opposition votes to ensure their victory.
However, Saturday’s developments indicate the BJP’s national leadership wanted to leave no space for complacency.
A senior BJP leader from Tripura said, “We had no clue till today afternoon of such a development. But now it’s clear the top leadership asked him to step down. This certainly is a move aimed at reducing anti-incumbency.”
Another BJP leader had a different view. This leader said, “More than anti-incumbency, the party’s national leadership was worried about Tripura unit’s internal rivalry. Deb had failed to take several other senior leaders along. With the TMC and Prashant Kishor’s team trying to engineer defections in our party using grievances against Deb, this move is more important in keeping the state unit intact.”
Notably, the BJP never had any significant presence in this hilly, northeastern state but the scene changed after Narendra Modi took charge as the prime minister in 2014. The BJP grew in Tripura largely on the basis of defections from the TMC, which had earlier built its organisation based on poaching of the Congress.
At present, besides the growing influence of the TMC, the BJP was also concerned about the increasing popularity of The Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA) Motha, a political force headed by erstwhile Tripura royal scion Pradyot Kishore Debbarma.
On Saturday, without making any direct reference to Deb’s resignation, Debbarma wrote on Twitter, “We are ready! We were ready! What has happened today was known to us! What will happen tomorrow is known by the people and my message to those who left for greater unity and power should return to TIPRA Motha. In this One Last Fight, TIPRA Motha will NOT lose .”
On the other hand, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s party, the TMC, tried to take credit for this change. It said in a tweet, “Goodbye & good riddance to the CM who failed thousands of people in #Tripura! Enough damage done. So much so that even the top bosses at @BJP4India are fed up of his INCOMPETENCE. Folks at BJP seem very rattled by what @AITCofficial achieved in the state. CHANGE IS INEVITABLE.”
Later on Saturday, Union minister Bhupender Yadav announced MP Manik Saha as the leader of BJP’s legislature party. Yadav was earlier appointed as observer for the election of the legislature party leader along with Vinod Tawde.
श्री @DrManikSaha2 जी को त्रिपुरा भाजपा विधायक दल का नेता चुने जाने की बहुत-बहुत बधाई। मुझे पूर्ण विश्वास है कि आदरणीय प्रधानमंत्री श्री @narendramodi जी के मार्गदर्शन और आपके नेतृत्व में त्रिपुरा विकास की नई ऊंचाइयों पर पहुँचेगा।#Tripura pic.twitter.com/b6qKAKPd5m— Bhupender Yadav (@byadavbjp) May 14, 2022