Will the BJP's experiment pay off in Tripura?

Manik Saha, the newly sworn in chief minister of Tripura, with Biplab Deb, who resigned from the post of chief minister. PHOTO: PTI

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party decided to change its chief minister in Tripura merely nine months before the Assembly election in the State.

The success of the party's previous similar experiment in Uttarakhand has made it confident to replace Biplab Kumar Deb with BJP State unit president Manik Saha in Tripura, once a communist bastion.

The heated exchange of words at the meeting convened to elect the new chief minister on Saturday also pointed at the continuing intra-party issues in the State.

Governor S N Arya administered the oath to Saha at the Raj Bhavan in Agartala on Sunday.

The change at the helm could also be construed as a generational shift since 69-year-old Saha has replaced 50-year-old Deb. It also reflects the big crisis the party has been facing in a small State like Tripura.

Saha was elected to the Rajya Sabha on March 31 last. The party may send Deb to Rajya Sabha instead of Saha, and it is also considering the pros and cons of posting once again the former chief minister as the State president of the BJP.

The party, apparently, is not bothered about the message the change -- with barely a year to polls -- would send about the Deb rule. The BJP's justification is that it is the prime minister who still wins the vote, and not chief ministers.

Deb captured Tripura in 2018 with a huge majority. But voices of dissent were heard from the State BJP unit against his style of functioning barely two-and-a-half years into his governance. Sudip Burman and Ashish Kumar Saha, who switched over the BJP from the Congress, even went to Delhi with complaints against Deb.

Complaints failed to create an impact since Deb was known to be hand-picked by the prime minister. His detractors, however, did not sit back with folded hands. The slogan, "Drop Biplab, Save Party," was heard loud and clear when national leaders visited Tripura to iron out the differences in the State unit. Deb decided to hold a rally in a show of strength on December 13, 2020 at Agartala. The party leadership, however, dissuaded him, and asked Deb to focus on governance.

Even as the internal issues kept simmering, rebel leaders Sudip Burman and Ashish Kumar Saha returned to the Congress. It has now become clear that the opposition to Deb was not confined to those two leaders.

It has to be seen if Saha could lead the party to the election, or whether the BJP would change the chief minister once more -- as it had done in Uttarakhand -- ahead of the Assembly poll.

Despite all the issues, the BJP, however, could breathe easy since it does not have a strong opposition in Tripura.

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