With the Centre promising negotiations with leaders of the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT) -- organisers of the recent 10-day-long economic blockade demanding a separate state for the tribals of Tripura -- CPI(M) senior leader Jitendra Choudhury has accused the BJP of using "unethical and undemocratic" means to destabilise the state.
Choudhury, CPI-M Chief Whip in the Lok Sabha, also took a dig at the Bharatiya Janata Party, saying it was using the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to instigate the IPFT and other tribal forces against the state government in Tripura, where his party has been in power for two decades.
Averring that the BJP was trying to exploit the current situation in Tripura to expand its footprint in the northeast region, Choudhury, a former state minister, said the saffron party is tying up with local parties such as the IPFT to destabilise the state government.
"Today the situation is such that the Prime Minister's Office is being used to interfere in the political matters of the state where they are not in power. If it was politically done, we would have replied to them, but how come they are utilising the PMO? Is it permitted in our democracy? It is very undemocratic," Choudhury told IANS in an interview.
Assembly polls in Tripura are scheduled for early 2018. The state government is constantly facing hurdles due to the repeated demand of separate statehood for the tribals in Tripura. An IPFT-called indefinite economic blockade remained imposed in the state for 10 days till last Thursday. Though the state government attempted several times to persuade the protestors to call off their protest, the blockade was called off only after assurances by the Centre.
Emphasising that a separate state is not a solution to the problems of indigineous tribals in Tripura, Choudhury said: "There is a need to revisit the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution and make amendments in favour of the indigeneous tribals of Tripura. In case something is to be added, then certainly that can be done. Some added exemptions can be given to them."
According to Choudhury, arrangements can be made for the indigenous tribals of Tripura on the lines of Jaintia Hills for Jaintia tribals and Garo Hills for Garos in Meghalaya and Bodos in Assam.
However, the 59-year-old leader said that BJP was politicising the issue for its own gains. He claimed there were several meetings held between the PMO and the IPFT, whose outcome has not been revealed yet.
"In May this year, much before the blockade was imposed in Tripura, there were meetings held between IPFT and the PMO, with Jitendra Singh, who is also Minister for Development of North East Region, attending," said Choudhury.
Questioning the need for such meetings, Choudhury said: "If there are any political leaders such as Amit Shah or others in the BJP who are involved, then an explanation can be sought. But here the meeting was with the Prime Minister's Office."
The demand for Twipraland -- separate state for the indgineous tribals in Tripura -- is decades old.
The IPFT has been agitating since 2009 for a separate state to be carved out by upgrading the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC), which has jurisdiction over two-thirds of Tripura's 10,491 sq.km. area, housing 1,216,465 (mostly tribals) of the state's 3.7-million population.
Most political parties, including the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist, the Congress, the BJP, and Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura have rejected the IPFT's demand, saying it is not practical to divide the already small state.
Stating that a major reason behind tribals of Tripura being deprived in terms of development is the "tribal discriminating policy" of the earstwhile Congress government in Tripura, Choudhury said: "Since the merger of Tripura with India in 1949, the state had Congress government in the initial years. During this period, Tripura and tribals have suffered a lot."