The Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, which has been demanding a separate state of Twipraland for the Tripuri tribe, on Saturday proved to be a key player in the state Assembly elections.
The tribal party won eight of the nine seats it contested, with a vote share of 7.5%. This is a significant jump from the 2013 Assembly elections, when the party failed to win even a single seat and clocked a minuscule 0.46% of the total votes.
The tribals form a crucial voter block, and one-third of the 60 Assembly seats is reserved for Tripura’s tribal population.
The Tripura Autonomous District Council administers tribal areas in the state under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. This provision allows for autonomous, decentralised self-governance in certain tribal regions across eight districts in Tripura. The Indigenous People’s Front wants all these areas – which account for almost 70% of the state’s territory – to be made a separate state called Twipraland.
The Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura shot into prominence in 2017 when hundreds its supports blocked a national highway on the outskirts of the capital Agartala as well as the state’s lone railway track, demanding the creation of Twipraland. While the ruling Left Front government had then outright rejected the demand, the BJP took a more measured line, saying that it “recognised the deprivation of the tribals of the state”.
The demand for a separate state for tribals soon became a major electoral issue. The IPFT had forged a pre-poll alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party. NC Debbarma, the octogenarian chief of the party, had said that they felt their best chances lay with the BJP. “They control the Centre, and are most likely to continue,” he had argued. “This is a Constitutional demand and has to be supported by the Centre.”
But now that the BJP and the tribal party are set to rule Tripura together, the former has to now contend with its statehood demand, which it has side-stepped during the run up to the elections.