The killing of journalist Santanu Bhowmik in the state of Tripura has brought Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) in national headlines. Four activists of the IPFT were arrested in link with the brutal killing of a Bhowmik. In the violence, around 16 police personnel were injured and two vehicles were damaged by the IPFT activists. The officials were said to be attacked with bows, arrows, bottles, and machetes.
The current issue:
Bhowmik was covering a road blockade organised by IPFT, a political group that claims to represent the state’s tribal population. IPFT is demanding a separate state of Twipraland since long. Just a day before, workers of IPFT had clashed with the Tripura Rajaer Upajati Ganamukti Parishad, the ruling party’s tribal unit. Multiple people had been injured and vehicles had been torched in the violent incident.
IPFT: The Origin and Rise:
Formed in 1996, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura is seeking a separate independent Tripuri state from India. IPFT, allegedly, is having the backing of the banned separatist group, National Liberation Front of Tripura.
IPFT came to spotlight in 2000 when it defeated the Tripura Rajaer Upajati Ganamukti Parishad in Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council elections. The council ruled the state’s tribal areas under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Subsequently, it aligned with the Tripura Upjati Juba Samiti, the state’s first tribal party. At the time, it was the only strong contender to the Left.
Another breakthrough for IPFT was when Tribal National Volunteers joined the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura. Notably, Tribal National Volunteers had started off as an armed group but surrendered in 1988 to become a political body. Collectively, the three parties came to the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra.
The Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra fought the assembly polls in 2003 and 2008 with Congress party but couldn’t manage to leave a mark. Some attributed this failure to the party’s links with the National Liberation Front of Tripura. It was said that the state’s Bengali community was not pleased with National Liberation Front.
After the humiliating defeat, the party saw huge defections and started to untangle. It broke into the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura and the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra. As a result, the influence of both reduced significantly.
The party reworked on itself and as Tripura goes to polls next year, the Indigenous People’s Front is set to be an important entity afresh. Notably, a third of Tripura’s 60-seat assembly is set aside for its tribal population. This accounts for more than 30% of its total population.
In the last two years, the Bharatiya Janata Party too emerged as a contender to the ruling Left. But to gain a foothold, it needs the backing of Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura. It is the only party that could help BJP gets entry to the state’s tribal areas. Last year, the BJP is also said to have supported IPFT in bye-polls to the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council.
Currently, it is the stronghold of the Tripura Rajaer Upajati Ganamukti Parishad. The political situation is vague now with the tribal party renewing its demand for a distinct state of Twipraland. Tripura’s tribal areas account for nearly 70% of the state’s total land area.
The political situation is vague now with the tribal party renewing its demand for a distinct state of Twipraland. Tripura’s tribal areas account for nearly 70% of the state’s total land area.
IPFT is strongly protesting and keeping its demands of a separate state in front of the government. In July this year, it had blocked roads and rail lines for more than a week in a bid to disconnect the state from rest of the nation.
What’s next on political front?
The ruling party in Centre maintains that it does not support the statehood demand. A BJP member from Tripura unit had said that the BJP recognized the deprivation of the tribals and if elected it would convert the tribal district council to a state council.
The BJP has made an attempt to align, an official deal is still doubtful. But then, the largest party in the country is well aware of the importance of IPFT to make into the state’s tribal areas. Actually, the indigenous party’s unpredictability is becoming a hurdle in materializing a formal pre-poll alliance. IPFT too have cleared that there was no alliance yet.
Thus, the BJP and IPFT may opt for some arrangement of seat-sharing as the former just don’t have any strength in the tribal areas. On the other hand, Communist Party of India (Marxist) that has ruled Tripura since 1993 and has 50 seats in the 60-member House currently, blamed BJP of backing IPFT just to win the elections.