Four months after he had to abruptly resign as Chief Minister, Biplab Deb was on Friday nominated by the BJP as the party’s candidate for a Rajya Sabha by-election in Tripura. The announcement came hours after he was declared party in-charge for Haryana.
The state’s lone Upper House seat had fallen vacant after Rajya Sabha MP Manik Saha replaced Deb as CM.
A notification issued on Friday by BJP national general secretary and office in-charge Arun Singh said the party’s central election body had nominated Deb as the candidate for the by-election scheduled for September 22.
Deb’s removal as CM, after the triumphant Assembly win of 2018 dethroning the Left in Tripura after 25 years, had come out of the blue, with even party leaders taken by surprise. The BJP never came out with a clear reason on why he had to step down, except that he was wanted in organisational activities and that it was a decision of the high command.
While Deb publicly put up a brave face, saying “the party is above all”, in the weeks following the move, he largely dissociated himself from BJP activities, barring a few appearances with Saha. He is yet to vacate the bungalow he occupied in his capacity as CM, forcing Saha to move into another house.
Meanwhile, Saha, once considered ‘Biplab’s man’, came into his own in the job, dismissing any impression that he was a stop-gap arrangement.
The two consecutive moves on Friday seem like a bid by the BJP to accommodate Deb and keep him happy. While, on paper, his victory in the Rajya Sabha bypoll is near certain – the BJP has 36 MLAs in the 60-member Tripura Assembly, and ally IPFT another eight – the Left Front has been claiming cracks within the ruling coalition. It has appealed to all non-BJP MLAs, including lone Congress legislator Sudip Roy Barman, to vote for its candidate Bhanulal Saha.
Sources said Deb, 52, might not mind this new profile, including his first ever stint in Parliament. For one, as he moves to the Centre, it is with the knowledge that the party organisation in Tripura is now led by one of his close associates, Rajib Bhattacharjee. Deb also has loyalists comfortably placed in the Saha Cabinet, including Law Minister Ratan Lal Nath (who recently compared Deb to Rabindranath Tagore, Albert Einstein and Swami Vivekananda), and Information and Cultural Affairs Minister Sushanta Chowdhury (who has publicly voiced his affiliation with Deb).
Deb is also not new to Delhi, having worked for a long time there with the RSS and BJP.
For the BJP, the removal of Deb from Tripura allows Saha to come into his own, with no rival power centre dogging his authority.
Saha has been trying for a style different from the abrasive Deb’s, including discouraging political violence that saw a rise under his predecessor. However, others in the party believe he is not the leader who can be the face of the BJP in next year’s Assembly elections.
With ally IPFT seen as losing its hold among tribals to the TIPRA Motha party led by royal scion Pradyot Kishore, could Deb again be the answer for the BJP ahead of the polls? Party leaders do not rule it out.