Effecting a change of guard in Tripura where Assembly elections are due early next year, the BJP got Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb to resign from the post Saturday and, hours later, elected state party president Manik Saha, who is also a Rajya Sabha member, as the new Leader of the House.
Saha was elected leader of the legislature party — and thereby the new CM — at a meeting held in the official residence of the Chief Minister. There was high drama immediately thereafter when Fire and Cooperative Minister Ramprasad Paul, who had opposed Deb before he joined his cabinet last year, burst into tears. “I will die, I will not (have anything to) do (with) such a party,” he wailed. In February this year, Paul and 14 others had accused Saha, considered by many as close to Deb, of running the state unit to the ground.
Video clips that made the rounds later showed Paul lifting a chair to try and hurl it in the direction of one of the BJP leaders from Delhi who had come as observers — Union Minister Bhupender Yadav, party general secretary Vinod Tawde, secretary Vinod Kumar Sonkar — for the legislature party meeting.
Union Minister Pratima Bhoumik, Deputy Chief Minister Jishnu Dev Varma, Cabinet Minister Sushanta Chowdhury, Deb’s OSD Sanjay Mishra tried to calm Paul. BJP workers tried to stop the media from filming the incident by covering the window panes of the room where the incident took place.
After the meeting, another BJP MLA, Parimal Debbarma, too slammed the party leadership over his choice. “Why were MLAs called to the meeting? Saha was made a Rajya Sabha MP recently, we did not oppose that. But could they not have considered one of the MLAs in this case? You will see more MLAs speaking out in the coming days. This is not done,” Debbarma, who represents the Ambassa constituency, said.
Speaking to reporters after the legislature party elected him leader, Saha said he would continue to be a karyakarta of the party.
“I was given the responsibility of the state (party) president. I worked…. Now I have been named leader of the legislature party. The CM proposed my name, everyone supported.”
A leading dental surgeon, Saha was named chief of the state BJP in 2020. He had joined the party in 2016, two years before it came to power in the state.
Called on Hon’ble Tripura Governor Shri @SatyadeoNArya with newly elected CM Shri @DrManikSaha2 ji and other senior party leaders after Shri Saha was elected the BJP’s legislative party leader in Tripura to present the letter of support. pic.twitter.com/xMlWYHy5Xm
— Bhupender Yadav (@byadavbjp) May 14, 2022
Congratulating Saha on his new role, Deb said: “The party made him president and he worked a lot. The local body elections were held under his watch, in which the BJP won. He was elected leader of the legislature party. I congratulate him. I hope he will accelerate the pace of work I started, and that he will strengthen the party and government.”
Congratulations and best wishes to @DrManikSaha2 ji on being elected as the legislature party leader.
— Biplab Kumar Deb (@BjpBiplab) May 14, 2022
He said he would “not leave” Tripura and would work for the state together with the new Chief Minister.
Asked why he had to resign, Deb said: “These are party decisions. These happen. Let me work and win in 2023.”
In a Twitter post later, he thanked the “Central leadership” and “people of Tripura” and said he would “always work for the betterment of my State”.
Earlier, Deb submitted his resignation to Governor Satyadeo Narain Arya at the Raj Bhawan in Agartala.
Deb was in New Delhi on Thursday and Friday and met BJP national president JP Nadda and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Sources said the Central leadership was “unhappy” with his “style of functioning” and “concluded” that the party could not go to Assembly elections under him.
“We do not have one full year left to face the elections and it is almost the deadline to make changes in the government. There were different charges… The party had to step in,” a party source said.
The last four years have not been easy for Deb and the party. Sudip Roy Barman, a veteran leader who had deserted the Congress and joined the BJP in 2017, raised the flag of rebellion a few months after Deb took charge of Tripura.
In October 2020, Barman, leading a group of MLAs, camped in Delhi to meet the BJP Central leadership and demand Deb’s removal as CM, saying he was “dictatorial, inexperienced and unpopular.”
But the BJP leadership stood by Deb, refusing to give in to the demand. Some of these MLAs ended up joining the Deb camp. Barman and Ashish Kumar Saha left the BJP earlier this year.
But the BJP brass was annoyed when Deb, at a public meeting, declared he would seek the people’s “mandate” on whether he should continue in office in the face of intense factionalism in the state unit.
Nadda spoke to the Chief Minister and directed him to drop the plan immediately following which Deb backed down. The leadership made it clear to him that it would handle organizational matters and he, as Chief Minister, should focus on governance issues.
In the party, people were under the impression that Deb enjoyed the confidence of top leaders, especially the Prime Minister. This, sources said, helped Deb overcome several crises in the state unit and party.
“But the issues became so intense that the party could not overlook them. The BJP cannot go to elections (next year) as a divided house,” a source said.
Repeated warnings and cautions from the BJP leadership forced Deb to maintain a low profile. In his meetings with him, Deb was told clearly that only a good progress card could make the party go to the hustings with confidence.
Party leaders pointed to the BJP’s experience in Uttarakhand where the Chief Minister was changed a few months before the Assembly elections earlier this year — a clean image and the PM’s popularity ensured the party’s return to power. “In Tripura also, the BJP can highlight Central schemes and Modi’s popularity in the elections,” a leader said.
— With Sourav Roy Barman