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Pradyot Manikya Debbarma: ‘Maharaja’, entrepreneur, tribal voice, now Congress chief in Tripura

As Barman begins his new innings, the Congress hopes the state’s tribal voters see him as an alternative.

Written by Abhishek Saha | Guwahati |
March 1, 2019 2:54:20 am
Pradyot Manikya Debbarma

On January 8, six tribal youths were injured in police firing as protesters came out on streets against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill at Madhobbari in Tripura’s Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council. Days later, Pradyot Manikya Debbarma, the “maharaja” of Tripura and then a working president of the state’s Congress unit, visited the families of the injured men. He was accompanied by leaders of several tribal political groups, including those of the youth wing of the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), the BJP’s ally in the state. Since then, Debbarma has spearheaded the movement against the Bill in collaboration with other tribal groups.

On Tuesday, the Congress, which is attempting to resurrect itself in the state after being wiped out in last year’s state elections, formally appointed Debbarma, 40, the only son of Kirit Bikram Debbarma, the Manikya dynasty’s last ‘king’ and and current head of the erstwhile royal family of Tripura, as the president of the state’s Congress unit.

“I think the biggest challenge as well as a personal motivation for me will be to attract clean, young people to join politics. Too much emphasis is given to people who toe the rhetoric and don’t speak for the common person. The image of the party has to improve and I will do everything to ensure that politicians in my party are respected for their work and behaviour,” Debbarma told The Indian Express.

Both Barman’s father Kirit Bikram and mother Bibhu Kumari Devi were Congress politicians — he a three-time MP, she once an MP and minister. Barman himself wears many hats — owner of The Heritage Club hotel in Shillong and editor-in-chief of the popular The Northeast Today magazine.

As Barman begins his new innings, the Congress hopes the state’s tribal voters, who they believe are disenchanted with the BJP-IPFT government over the lack of progress on Twipraland (they have been demanding a separate state for the state’s tribal population) and alleged lack of development on education and jobs, see him as an alternative.

The BJP-IPFT alliance is severely strained too — most recently, during the panchayat elections last September, workers of the two parties indulged in attacks and counter-attacks.

Debbarma said, “To a certain degree, IPFT has failed to keep its word… The IPFT is in danger because the anger amongst our people in the hills towards them is immense. The longer they keep silent on their core issues, the worse it will get for them,” Debbarma said.

Shukla Charan Noatia, general secretary of the IPFT youth wing, said, “Tribals dissatisfied with the present government might move towards the Congress. In the struggle against the citizenship Bill, we supported the maharaja because it was a fight for our survival and identity. We represent the sentiment of the indigenous people’s demand for Twipraland. Whichever party supports and takes our demand forward, we will side with them.”

Tripura BJP spokesperson Ashok Sinha, however, played down Debbarma’s appointment and its possible impact on tribal voters. “Our election prospects do not change with him becoming president,” Sinha said.

The BJP has tried to woo the state’s tribal population by showcasing its recognition of the royal family. Last year, the Union Cabinet named the Agartala airport after Debbarma’s grandfather, Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya, who is hailed as the architect of modern Tripura. On February 9, PM Narendra Modi unveiled a statue of the late king at the airport. Debbarma’s uncle Jishnu Debbarma is with the BJP and is Deputy Chief Minister in Biplab Kumar Deb’s Cabinet.

For now, Debbarma has his task cut out: reviving the Congress in the state.

“I have just taken over. Let me assess the strength and weakness of our party before making any tall claims,” Debbarma said.

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