The Northeastern state of Tripura holds considerable political importance for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) despite its small size and limited electoral significance nationally. It is the second state in the region after Assam where the BJP has come to power ~ it won the 2018 Assembly election decisively ~ and the party’s focus on the East and South of India where it is still comparatively weak is essential for it to emerge as a truly pan-India political organisation to replace a crumbling Congress Party. But it is the manner in which the BJP is approaching the Tripura Assembly poll scheduled for next year which is of interest ~ the saffron camp has already begun an aggressive push in the tribal-dominated areas of the state that account for 20 seats. The aim, BJP leaders have announced, is to build on the 10 seats they won last time around; the target is to emerge victorious in 12-14 tribal constituencies.
Now why, readers could be forgiven for thinking, should the rest of the country be interested in the ruling dispensation’s attempt to dominate one score constituencies dominated by the tribal community in Tripura? In a line, because it is the template which the BJP has set in place across the country for reasons both of ideological assertion ~ that the vanvasi/ janjati/adivasi samaj is very much part of the holistic Indic/Hindu fold ~ and of electoral strategy. Adivasis, comprising 705 ethnic groups, constitute close to nine per cent of India’s population. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) since the 1950s has been working through the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram to counter what it terms the sense of “separateness” from the Hindu fold it accuses Christian missionaries of attempting to inculcate among tribal populations through their alleged conversion activities. Electorally, apart from the states of the Northeast, the tribal community can tip the balance of power in major states such as Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, and Andhra Pradesh. For those wondering why so many in the Opposition decided to back President Draupadi Murmu in the recently-concluded presidential poll, therein lies the answer.
Interestingly, again to take the Tripura example, the pushback against the saffron surge in tribal areas is coming not from the erstwhile first choice of the tribal community ~ the Congress ~ or indeed the regional parties which have replaced it in many states, but from indigenous tribal organisations which have become politically active. The emergence in Tripura of the Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA Motha) led by former royal scion Mr Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barma, for example, is likely to prove the main obstacle to the BJP’s plan to strengthen its hold on the tribal community. While the anti-BJP Jharkhand Mukti Morcha is already in power in Jharkhand, there are green shoots visible in some other states of tribal socio-cultural organisations beginning to assert themselves politically. That’s where the challenge to the BJP will likely emerge from.