Tripura, just days away from elections to its 60 assembly seats, saw a face-off today between the BJP and the state's newest political entity, the Tipra Motha. In Tripura for a series of rallies, Union Home Minister Amit Shah took on the new party, accusing it of being in league with the CPM and the Congress.
"Earlier the Congress and Communists were fighting. This time, the Congress and Communists have come together and Tipra Motha is with them," Mr Shah said in a rally in Santirbazar.
"I want to tell my adivasi brothers and sisters -- those who want to make false promises and get your vote, they are with the Communists. Don't fall into their trap. If someone can bring progress for adivasis, it can only be the BJP and Narendra Modi and no one else," Mr Shah added.
The Left and the Congress have formed an alliance as Opposition parties to take on the BJP, but the Tipra Motha is not part of it. The response from erstwhile royal Pradyot Kishore Debbarma, who heads Tipra Motha, was scathing.
Citing Mr Shah's speech, he said: "I would like to tell our country's home minister one thing. This Manikya clan does not bow down before anyone and is no one's B-Team. You took Maharaja Bir Bikram, my grandfather's name. You should understand Bir Bikram's grandson will not sell out his land, his people to anyone. We are no one's B-Team."
"The BJP is a B-Team in Nagaland. In Meghalaya, Shillong and Garo Hills, they are a B-Team of some other party. You're a B-Team of another party in Mizoram. In Tamil Nadu, you are the B-Team of the AIADMK. In Punjab, you are the B-Team of the Akali Dal. BJP is the B-team of many parties in India. Tipra Motha is a small party. This party does not bow down or compromise," he added.
"If we were indeed a B-Team why do you invite us to Delhi for talks? There was no deal, no compromise and that's why you are calling us a B-Team? This party will defeat BJP, CPM and the Congress in 2023," added the erstwhile royal, whose party can queer the pitch for the BJP in the coming election.
Tipra Motha has been growing at the cost of the BJP and its ally IPFT's tribal support base, apparently pushing the BJP on the backfoot. The BJP's move to change its Chief Minister just a few months ago is seen as a reflection of the top leadership's concern.
If the BJP and IPFT do not get a clear majority, the Tipra Motha can emerge as kingmaker.
The party has done well in the tribal areas district council elections in 2021, winning 18 of the 30 seats. It could also swing seats in favour in the 20 tribal dominated seats in 60-member assembly.
Mr Debbarma is known as 'Bubagra' or 'Maharaja' among the locals and is vocal about the rights of the indigenous Tripuri people in the state.
His newly formed political party has entered the political pitch with the core demand of Greater Tipraland. His party has also promised to fulfill long-pending demands of the tribal council administration. The party is also contesting in several non-tribal seats, making it a serious contender in these elections.