In a significant political development, the ruling BJP's junior ally Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT) has sought a separate block for its eight members in the assembly, Speaker Rebati Mohan Das said on Tuesday.
"IPFT General Secretary Mevar Kumar Jamatia in a letter to me has sought separate block for the party members in the state assembly. I have sought some clarification from the IPFT," Das told the media.
In the 60-member Tripura assembly the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has 36 members and its junior ally has eight legislators while the opposition Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) has sixteen members.
The IPFT has two ministers -- Narendra Chandra Debbarma ( Revenue and Fisheries departments) and Mevar Kumar Jamatia ( Tribal Welfare and Forest departments) -- in the eight-member Tripura ministry. The party contested the recent Lok Sabha elections and the ongoing panchayat polls against the BJP.
Jamatia told IANS, "There is no question of withdrawing support from the BJP-led state government or breaking the alliance. As the IPFT is an independent party, that's why we have sought separate block in the state assembly. As the IPFT is a registered sovereign party, we have asked the speaker to allot separate rooms and other facilities as per rules in the state assembly buildings," the tribal leader said.
The IPFT, a tribal-based local party, 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 and is home to over 12,16,000 people.
The latest political development has rocked the state politics since Monday evening after the IPFT's letter to the Assembly Speaker.
The opposition CPI-M led Left Front and the Congress have asked the IPFT to clear its stand on the alliance with the BJP.
"Why the IPFT forged alliance with the BJP and why now they want a separate block in the state assembly, people are not understanding? The IPFT leaders must clear their position," Left Front convenor Bijan Dhar told the media.
Tripura Pradesh Congress Vice-President Tapas Dey said that to regain their political base among the tribals, this is a strategy of the IPFT before the politically important elections to the TTAADC.
BJP leaders are saying that the IPFT's decision would in no way affect the BJP-IPFT alliance government.
"IPFT is a sovereign party, they can take any decision. In the Lok Sabha and panchayat elections both the BJP and IPFT have fought separately," BJP spokesman Nabendu Bhattacharjee told IANS.
"We have contested the parliamentary and panchayat elections separately to highlight our basic issues especially the statehood demand. Majority tribals are most backward. They need much more financial, social and administrative support," the IPFT President told IANS.
The IPFT had held agitations in Delhi and Tripura in support of its separate "Twipraland" (full-fledged state for the Tripuris or indigenous tribals) and other demands.
A delegation of the IPFT led by party President and Revenue Minister Narendra Chandra Debbarma and party General Secretary and Tribal Welfare Minister Mevar Kumar Jamatia met Union Home Minister Amit Shah, DoNER (Development of North Eastern Region) and PMO (Prime Minister's Office) Minister Jitendra Singh and Forest and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar in New Delhi last week and discussed their various demands including statehood.
All the political parties including the BJP are strongly opposed to the IPFT's separate state demand. After the BJP-IPFT came to power in March last year, the workers of the two ruling parties have often clashed over the control of local administrations including blocks.