War of Words over 7 Congress Leaders Joining Trinamool

A day after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Tripura legislator Sudip Roy Barman suggested that seven Congress leaders switching to the Trinamool Congress this week was a decision taken in “haste” and “anger”, one of them, Subal Bhowmik, hit back on Friday, saying that the situation in the state is worse than “jungle raj” (lawlessness) and only TMC chief Mamata Banerjee can ensure justice to the people.

A political tussle between the BJP and TMC that began over West Bengal, where Trinamool recently won the fiercely fought April-May assembly election, has spread to nearby Tripura. The BJP has been in power in the state since 2018 after ousting a Left alliance government, while the TMC is looking to gain a foothold as part of Mamata Banerjee’s efforts to expand her party’s influence nationwide and take on the Narendra Modi government in the 2024 parliamentary polls. Trinamool had attempted to gain ground in Tripura around 2016 as well and Barman, a former Congress leader, had defected to the party along with some others. However, within a year, he switched to the BJP.

On July 29, the TMC got a fresh lease of life in Tripura after Congress leaders Bhowmik, Panna Deb, Prakash Chandra Das, Premtosh Debnath, Bikash Das, Tapan Dutta and Mohammad Idris Miah came on board. Following this, BJP MLA Barman posted a cryptic tweet.

Decision taken in haste,anger or frustration and out of emotion will only strengthen the anti nationalist force. Stand firm with the Nationalist and believe in the highest leadership.— Sudip Roy Barman (@SudipRoyBarman1) July 29, 2021

The developments came close on the heels of the alleged detention of a team from poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s outfit I-PAC in Tripura’s Agartala this week, purportedly for violating Covid guidelines. The team had arrived to carry out surveys for the TMC in the state where elections will be held in 2023. All the 23 members later got pre-arrest bail. Banerjee had also dispatched a team of Trinamool Congress ministers to Agartala to escalate the issue, with the party maintaining that the BJP was scared of its growing influence.

Speaking to News18 over the phone, Subal Bhowmik said, “The situation in Tripura is worse than ‘jungle raj’. The BJP has left our beloved state to die in the hands of a toddler (hinting at chief minister Biplab Deb). They are fooling the people of Tripura with false promises. They don’t care about the sentiments, culture and emotions of people in Tripura. I shed my blood to oust the Left Front government from Tripura but now I regret joining the BJP in 2013. They are depriving people from their basic rights. I quit the Congress in 2013 because I felt that the party was reluctant to take on the Left Front seriously in Tripura. Then I joined the BJP but I had to quit the party again in 2019 because I found that the BJP is fooling the people of Tripura. No one can say that I joined the BJP for power or any post. When I joined the BJP, its vote percentage in the state was 1 per cent. After much thinking, I decided to join the TMC because I respect Mamata Banerjee’s fight against the anti-people policies of the central government. She has emerged as a strong force against the BJP at the national level and in Tripura too. TMC under her leadership will do well in the coming assembly polls.”

Over the last couple of years, Tripura chief minister Biplab Deb has been facing dissension in the party due to his differences with influential leader Barman. The MLA is the son of former chief minister and Congress leader Samir Ranjan Barman.

In 2019, all the portfolios held by Sudip Roy Barman, including public works department, health and family welfare, science, technology and environment, industry and commerce, etc, were taken over by Deb and deputy chief minister Jishnu Dev Varma.

After joining the BJP in 2017, Barman convinced seven former Trinamool MLAs to switch over. He was also the key strategist behind the BJP’s alliance with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT). Over time, however, his relationship with Biplab Deb turned sour. He also wrote a letter to the chief minister recently, urging him to take more steps to contain the coronavirus pandemic in the state. According to sources, 10 MLAs are backing Barman’s stand against Deb, but his latest tweet has added a new twist to Tripura politics.

Reacting to Barman’s post, Bhowmik said, “I don’t know why he made such comments. I am confused because he is the one who for the last couple of years has been raising his voice against Biplab Deb. He organised several rallies in Tripura against the CM for his failure in providing women security in the state… It is interesting to see that whenever he goes to Delhi, he cannot stop praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but back in his home state, he is against Biplab Deb.”

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