On December 25 last year, a large number of followers of a religious sect had gathered in Agartala’s Vivekananda Maidan, a few kilometres from the state secretariat. There was an unlikely figure at the gathering: Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar.
The Marxist politician, known for his low-key working style, rarely ventured beyond party events and blood donation camps throughout his tenure. His presence at the religious gathering predictably created a buzz.
Minutes after Sarkar’s departure, state BJP president Biplab Deb visited the congregation. The next day’s papers had pictures of Deb bowing down to touch the religious sect head’s feet, splashed across the front pages. And some bad press for Sarkar: He did not touch the religious leader’s feet, only shook hands. The incident encapsulates the rise of 48-year-old Deb in the political landscape of Tripura.
Read | Who is Biplab Deb?
Deb was born and brought up in south Tripura’s Udaipur. After graduating from Tripura University in 1999, he moved to the national capital and trained under RSS veteran K N Govindacharya.
In 1994, when Deb was undergoing his first year of RSS training in Assam’s Haflong, he caught the attention of Sunil Deodhar, who went on to become the central party in-charge of Tripura in November 2014 and later introduced Deb to the people of the state. It was not until 2016 that Deb became a prominent figure in state politics. And by 2018, he had helped upstage the 25-year-long Communist rule in Tripura, barely five years after the Left Front’s stupendous win with 50 seats in the 60-member Assembly.
During the 2013 Assembly elections, Deb was serving as Satna MP Ganesh Singh’s assistant, which he had been doing since 2004. Singh told The Sunday Express that Deb was somewhat reluctant when the party decided to send him to Tripura — a move aimed at providing a fresh alternative to the electorate that was disenchanted with the faces in the opposition. “He displayed strong organisational skills during his time with me. He knows how to get work done and get people to deliver. He is hardworking, efficient and extremely polite,” Singh said.
Deb was made the state BJP president in 2016, and very soon he caught the imagination of the electorate with his oratorical skills and pleasing personality. In Deb, the anti-Left constituency found an alternative to Manik Sarkar, the four-term CM universally admired for his clean image. The state opposition leaders, propped up by the Congress over the years, were largely a discredited lot in the eyes of the electorate due to successive defeats and the Congress rule of 1988-93, the last time the party was in power.
Deb also made the Tripura media take note of the BJP, no small task considering the BJP’s negligible presence in state politics. In the 2013 polls, the party secured less than 2 per cent of the total votes.
Officially, the BJP did not declare any chief ministerial candidate during its campaign, but the fact that Deb would succeed Sarkar as CM seemed a foregone conclusion, with his image on every poll banner in the state and the absence of any strong leader who could rival Deb and was not a Congress turncoat.
Deodhar, however, has maintained that the party would take a call on the CM candidate only after the poll verdict, and that Deb’s photographs had been used because he was state BJP chief.
Deb has declared total assets of Rs 47 lakh in his poll affidavit. His wife, from Punjab, is a deputy manager with the Parliament House branch of State Bank of India.