“We want self-rule”: Pradyot Debbarma on his party’s victory in Tripura tribal council polls

01 June 2021

On 10 April, a newly formed political party swept the elections in Tripura’s Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council. The Tipraha Indigenous People’s Regional Alliance, or TIPRA, won 18 of the 28 contested seats, defeating the state’s ruling alliance of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura. TIPRA was founded as a political party on 5 February by Pradyot Kishore Manikya Debbarma, a member of Tripura’s erstwhile royal family.

Debbarma was formerly a member of the Congress Party and was appointed as Tripura’s Congress state president in 2019. He resigned the same year because of differences with the party regarding the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship Amendment Act. The Congress had asked him to withdraw a petition he filed in the Supreme Court seeking the implementation of the NRC in Tripura. In September 2019, Debbarma wanted to protest against the CAA, but he claimed that the Congress asked him not to. Subsequently, he resigned from his post and from the party. In December 2019, Debbarma announced the launch of TIPRA as a social organisation aiming to work for the rights of indigenous people. In February 2021, he stated that TIPRA would contest the TTAADC polls as a political party.

In April, Kimi Colney spoke to Debbarma about his political journey, the reasons behind TIPRA’s victory, and the party’s current and future goals. “Our core ideology is Greater Tipraland,” he said. “We no longer want to be controlled by Agartala. We want to have our future of our own.”

Kimi Colney: You have won a landslide victory in the TTAADC polls despite being a newly floated party. What according to you is the major factor that led to your party’s win?
Pradyot Kishore Manikya Debbarma: We had a team of young faces. Around ninety percent of them were not from a political background, their uncles, fathers, aunts had no political positions. We had [people who were] 25-26 years old and 30-31 years old who were elected members. I would probably qualify as one of the oldest candidates at 42. We had a very positive campaign, we did not speak out against BJP, we did not speak out against the Communist [party] or the Congress. We offered the people, “this is what we will do.” I had resigned [from the Congress] on the principal ground [of the] CAA. Then I formed the social organisation called TIPRA.

 Then suddenly Corona happened. Nobody was helping anyone. My organisation, all these young guys, we started helping people. We helped close to thirty-five thousand migrant students, labourers who came back to Tripura, whether it was from Pune, Guwahati, Shillong, Delhi, Himachal, Chennai, Hyderabad. We arranged cars for them, we arranged food for them. And we helped people in the villages also. So we became recognisable. When the government had failed, we were working. Then we tried our best to unite all the regional parties because we said that indigenous people are suffering. That is because national parties have exploited us and they have just failed on their promises. When that did not happen, I was forced to create a [political] party and I just got two months. In the two months we really worked hard. We led a positive campaign and while we were attacked from all quarters, we kept our discipline. I am an organisational man. I have worked in the Congress party [at the] grassroots. I worked from a village level. I was part of the NESO, or Northeast Students Organisation student movement, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, so I know how to organise. When I was in Shillong, I organised all the rock concerts, all the football matches or political things. I think I have organisational capability. So we did it and we fought. We fought really hard, we were out-funded by all the parties and yet we fought and we believed in ourselves and we won. 

KC: You have called for a “Greater Tipraland.” Can you explain what the idea behind this is?
PKMD: We want every Tripuri who is outside the TTADC area—they may be in certain parts of Mizoram, in certain parts of Assam, they could be in Agartala which is outside the TTADC area, there are some in Bangladesh. We want a council which will oversee the socio[logical], cultural and economic aspect of our people. We have lost our language, we have lost our identity, we have lost our way of life, our history. So for all these people who are outside, there should be a reference point where they can come and figure out what it is. I want this to be not under the state government, but under the prime minister of India. I want a development council for the development and protection of the indigenous people of Tripura.

Kimi Colney is a reporting fellow at The Caravan.

Keywords: Tripura Tribal communities regional parties