Tripura goes to polls on February 18. Several alliances have been forged between national and regional parties in the state. The most discussed alliance, however, is a contentious seat-sharing arrangement between the BJP and the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT). The BJP has declared candidates for 51 seats while the IPFT will contest the remaining nine seats in the 60-member assembly.
The move is contentious because the IPFT became a formidable force in the state’s politics by organising mass agitations and road blockades to further its demand for carving out a separate state for the tribals of Tripura called Tipraland. The CPM-led Left Front government of Tripura has made criticism of the alliance a cornerstone of its campaign in the state. The CPM campaign focuses on the message that the BJP has allied with a party that wants to break the state and that people of the state must not vote for the BJP-IPFT combine because it will lead to a deterioration of peace in Tripura.
The BJP also received some criticism from its own supporters in other parts of the country as they found it difficult to comprehend why a party that holds nationalism as the core of its ideology would ally with a party that espouses separatist ideas in any form, be it separatism within a state or separatism from the nation. The pessimistic perspective is that the alliance is a move to win the election and the ideology of nationalism has been put aside to further political purposes. The BJP faced similar criticism when it forged an alliance with the PDP to form the coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir. Congress leaders as well as supporters of both the BJP and PDP said the alliance proved that ideology took a backseat in the quest for power.
However, close observation of the dynamics in the alliances between the BJP and regional parties that supported an ideology contrary to the spirit of nationalism, reveals that these often strengthen national unity while also leading to the socio-economic and cultural development of demographic segments that were alienated from the Indian mainstream.
The tribals of Tripura have supported IPFT’s demand for a separate tribal state because they have been denied their due share in the state’s development. Over the past 25 years of left rule in the state, the government has failed to develop basic infrastructure in the tribal areas. Poverty amongst tribals is so acute that every year there are reports in the mainstream media of tribal families selling infants for as little as Rs 200. Healthcare and education are in a shambles. Though the CPM treats the tribals as their core vote, development has eluded them. This deprivation led to the movement for a separate state.
The alliance benefits both the BJP and the IPFT. While the BJP gains tribal votes, the IPFT gets a foothold in the state’s politics. More importantly, the society as a whole benefits from such an alliance. The tribals, marginalised until now, gain representation and voice in the running of the state and the BJP leadership becomes more acutely aware of the problems faced by marginalised communities. This could lead to a better and more equitable governance in the state.
The BJP-PDP alliance in Kashmir is often under grave stress due to a divergence of opinion between the two parties. But it has achieved a lot in the short period since it was forged. The PDP, which was known to sympathise with separatists in the state, now has to maintain a more balanced stance due to its alliance with a nationalistic BJP. The BJP, which many believed would only focus on a militaristic solution to the longstanding issues in Kashmir, is taking a more nuanced approach to the problems in the Valley.
When alliances force polar opposite ideologies to work together, they also cause the development of a middle path towards solving issues. Several complicated problems that India faces need a middle path for