‘We want full political power’

Interview with N.C. Debbarma, president of the IPFT.

Published : Feb 14, 2018 12:30 IST

N.C. Debbarma.

N.C. Debbarma.

N.C. DEBBARMA, president of the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), has been spearheading the movement for a separate State for tribal people for nearly a decade. For the coming Assembly elections, the tribal party has formed an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party and will contest nine of the 20 tribal seats, leaving the rest to the BJP.

In an exclusive interview to Frontline , Debbarma explained why he was willing to take a back seat in a region where his party is undoubtedly stronger than the BJP and the reason for demanding a separate State. “We are looking at the big picture. We have a demand that we want the Centre to grant us,” he said. Excerpts:

The IPFT has entered into an electoral alliance with the BJP. Why do you feel the people of Tripura will vote for your alliance?

In Tripura, the CPI(M) has been in power for the last 24 years. Until recently, the Congress was the main opposition party. Now it is the BJP.

Since 2014, when the BJP assumed power at the Centre, the common people of Tripura started showing resentment against the partisan attitude of the CPI(M). Those who have been deprived because of their political affiliations turned to the BJP for support as they realised that the Congress had become too weak to defeat the CPI(M). The BJP, on the other hand, is in power at the Centre and has assumed power in a number of north-eastern States, so the people of Tripura want a change here too. It is this mindset that prompted the people to start supporting the BJP from 2014.

This mindset is evident in the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council [TTAADC]. The tribal people of the State have not been treated fairly. Now they seek freedom from their present state of deprivation and want a change. On earlier occasions, the BJP granted people separate States—Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. We have also demanded that the TTAADC area be made into a separate State. It is a constitutional demand. For the past one decade, we have been carrying on a peaceful, democratic movement for it. We are supporting the BJP so that it will take our demand into consideration.

The tribal region has been a bastion of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). It is felt that the IPFT-BJP alliance will be a determining factor in the Assembly elections as the 20 tribal seats are one of the key factors in the elections. What makes you think you will succeed here?

If the CPI(M) had looked after the interests of the marginalised people, there would not have been any question of the people of the TTAADC region supporting any other party. The tribal people are leaving the CPI(M) in droves and joining us. They are not satisfied with the CPI(M). Our victory here is a certainty.

The IPFT is a stronger party in the TTAADC region. Why did you agree to settle for nine seats and allow the BJP to contest in the remaining 11 seats?

We are looking at the big picture. We have a demand and we want the Centre to grant us a separate State. So, we agreed to give them more seats although we are their main strength in the region.

Are you not apprehensive that the BJP may not fulfil your demand for a separate State? Your sacrifice may go in vain.

It is a fact that national parties are known to not keep their part of the bargain after elections. We have come to an agreement with the Centre on our demand for a separate State. If the BJP goes back on its words, then we will have to resume our agitation.

You are accused of destroying the peace and stability in Tripura with your separatist movement.

The CPI(M) is behind these accusations because it is finding the ground slipping from under its feet. For long the tribal region was its vote bank and it was virtually unchallenged here. But today, it feels the IPFT has taken away its tribal support base, and so it is levelling such allegations. We have been carrying out a peaceful democratic agitation for a separate State since 2009. The CPI(M) has been maligning us constantly through various media outlets. It even says that we are the front for a terrorist organisation. But the CPI(M) will not able to gain from such misinformation and malicious campaign. Every day, more and more tribal people are leaving the CPI(M) and the Gana Mukti Parishad [the tribal wing of the ruling party] and joining the IPFT. Recently in Simna constituency, at one of my public meetings, 169 families comprising 510 voters announced that they were shifting allegiance from the CPI(M) to our alliance.

What is the basis of your demand for a separate State?

When Tripura was ruled by kings, it was only a land of tribal people. After Partition, for historical reasons, refugees from East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, sought shelter here. This way, the percentage of the tribal population has been decreasing and the population of non-tribal people has been increasing. When kings ruled the region, tribal people formed more than 90 per cent of the population.Today they have been reduced to 31 per cent. This will reduce further in the coming years.

Our existence in our own land is becoming insignificant. This is the main basis for our demand for a separate State. We want full political power. We have been assured that the Central government will form a high-level modality committee to work out the details of the process.

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