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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

For 2023 Tripura polls, Congress to use mix of Tarun Gogoi’s Assam strategy, local issues

The veteran who was recently named as the Congress state president said the party would give jobs to overage candidates too, if voted to power

Written by Debraj Deb | Agartala |
Updated: October 10, 2021 7:05:06 pm
Birajit Sinha (Express Photo: Debraj Deb)

With one-and-a-half years to go for Assembly polls, making Congress a force to reckon with in Tripura at a time when leaders are jumping ship en masse is the task in front of Birajit Sinha, a former minister and Congress veteran who was recently named the party’s state president.

Speaking to indianexpress.com, Birajit admits Congress is “weakened in Tripura” but said ups and downs are normal in politics. “You will see a new Congress party in the next two months or so,” he said.

Birajit, who served in the Congress-TUJS coalition government between 1988 and 1993, was a state Youth Congress president till 1988. He was a member of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) from 2014 to 2015 and headed the state Congress in two tenures, 1998-2003 and 2016-2019.

“Congress has become weak due to different reasons in Tripura; national and state issues included. There was a lack of proper leadership. We may have lost in elections but never lost hope. We shall have a revived scenario from this November. The AICC has put faith in me and given me this huge responsibility. I shall try my best to revive Congress in Tripura”.

The 69-year old Congress veteran said during his stint as a minister in the Sudhir Ranjan Majumder and Samir Ranjan Barman cabinets between 1988-1993, Congress took a special drive for filling up vacant posts for reserved categories and took a cabinet decision to offer government jobs to overage candidates.

“This can’t be done en masse usually. We took a cabinet decision. People have seen us, they trust us. There has been too much deprivation from BJP in the name of giving jobs for missed calls, jobs in every household etc. We shall give jobs to overage candidates if Congress is voted to power”, Sinha said.

The demand for ‘Tipraland’ – a proposed separate state for tribals of Tripura floated by BJP’s ruling ally Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT) and royal scion Pradyot Kishore-led TIPRA Motha party’s call for ‘Greater Tipraland’, would not get traction among electors in the long run, Birajit Sinha said.

Instead, he said his party would demand ‘development councils’ for individual tribal communities like the ones former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi started with Bengali and Hindi-speaking communities in 2014-15.

While Gogoi’s strategy was to target BJP’s then existing support base in Assam with these development councils coupled with special packages for tea tribes, professional training for them and so on, he did not make it in the 2016 assembly polls, paving way for two successive BJP governments so far under Sarbananda Sonowal and Himanta Biswa Sarma.

“Tribals and non-tribals live together here. Congress is the bridge between these communities. In the past, Tripura ADC was formed under Indira Gandhi. It’s a matter of concern that tribals on the grassroots aren’t getting benefits. We have demanded to form development councils for individual communities, provide them with funds as per population strength, make provisions for education, health, cottage industry, protect their culture through organised training,” he said.

Taking a cue from Gogoi’s Assam strategy, Birajit Sinha, who is also president of Tripura Cha Mazdoor Union, said Tripura has over 58 tea estates and a history of over 100 years of tea industry. Hundreds of migrant labourers work in these gardens apart from 3,000 small tea growers, he said, adding that these gardens are at risk due to poor policies since the time of the Left regime.

“We demand a special package for tea garden workers. We shall demand to launch creches for their children through central scheme benefits. We shall start training for them”, he said.

The BJP, meanwhile, has an ambitious plan of covering Tripura’s tea labourers, especially women and children of the tea tribes, with Rs 1,000 crore special benefit scheme union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced in February.

Criticising BJP as a communal party that came to power in a secular country, Birajit Sinha said there is a sense of fear and religious freedom is being snatched away.

Taking on one of BJP’s major claims of success, entrepreneurship, he said: “CM Biplab Deb always keeps telling to rear cows, pigs, sell paan for business without waiting for jobs. But where’s the money to start even that? They talk about Mudra loans but youths don’t get money after visiting banks a hundred times. Plus there’s so much corruption. We shall demand to issue Mudra loan of Rs 2 lakh under government supervision for 3 lakh youths. We shall push for a loan mela,” Sinha said.

Congress would also demand for EMI waiver on all loans for six months in the Covid-19 pandemic, Sinha said.

Confident of getting good results in the 2023 assembly polls, Sinha said, “Let’s see how many seats BJP gets. Why would people vote for them? Youths, farmers, and social security pension holders are deprived. Their success stories are manufactured data. People aren’t happy. There is too much violence on political parties and common people”.

While ruling out chances of allying with the Left, Sinha reserved comments on TMC. “Future will tell us what is in store for us. Mamata Banerjee is a symbol of struggle and fight in Bengal. She stopped BJP there. I’m not very confident of its potential in Tripura though”.

Sinha, though, is not a popular figure as many Congress colleagues have criticised AICC’s choice of him as the president and quit the party in the last two weeks. Former party president Pijush Kanti Biswas, vice-president Tapas Dey, working presidents Purnita Chakma, professor Manik Deb and Baptu Chakraborty have quit Congress.

Royal scion Pradyot Kishore’s mother and ‘Rajmata’ Bibhu Kumari Devi, who was named in the state Congress executive committee under Birajit Sinha, later clarified her name was not included with her consent.

A lion’s share of the state Youth Congress, then headed by former PCC chief Pijush Biswas’s son Pujan Biswas, quit as well, later forming Tripura Democratic Front (TDF) – a new political party formed on ‘Gandhian ideals’. The Indian Youth Congress had to eventually dissolve the entire state youth congress body.

Sinha defended himself on the issue, “They could not make a mark. They turned Congress and youth congress to zero…no activities, no experience. The last state Congress president was part-time in Congress. Despite being an active party president, he was busy with the court and had time only on Sundays”, Sinha said, taking a jibe at Pijush Kanti Biswas, who is also a senior advocate at the High Court of Tripura.

On Bibhu Kumari Devi’s withdrawal, he said, “She is an AICC member. If PCC is reorganised, AICC members have to be de facto kept in the committee. Whether she wants to stay on board or not is her personal preference”.

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