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Kolkata: It is once again Trinamool Congress versus Bharatiya Janata Party, but the venue has shifted from Bengal to Tripura.
As The Wire has reported from Agartala, a team of 23 members from Prashant Kishore’s Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) went to Tripura on July 20 to assess ground realities on behalf of TMC, as the party is looking to expand there. Late on July 26, the team was detained by Tripura police.
Speaking to The Wire, the superintendent of police (West Tripura) Manik Das said that the I-PAC team is being “questioned” and said, “On Saturday we noticed that in a hotel named Woodland Park, around 22 persons who all came from outside of Tripura, were staying. We attempted to verify the purpose of their visit, amidst the COVID-19 situation. We found that they visited many interior places across the state and interacted with many people.”
A member of I-PAC told The Wire that members of the team went to Tripura with negative RT-PCR reports. On July 27 they again underwent a COVID-19 test and all of them tested negative.
TMC MP and newly appointed general secretary Abhishek Banerjee tweeted saying that the BJP was afraid of TMC and “rattled” by its Bengal victory.
They are so rattled by our victory in #Bengal that they’ve now kept 23 IPAC employees under house arrest.
Democracy in this nation dies a thousand deaths under BJP’s misrule!
— Abhishek Banerjee (@abhishekaitc) July 26, 2021
On July 27 night, the police served notices to all I-PAC members summoning them to the police station on August 1. Next morning, two TMC ministers Bratya Basu and Moloy Ghatak, along with the party’s trade union president Ritabrata Banerjee reached Agartala.
The ministers met the I-PAC members and arranged legal help for them. On July 29 a local court of Agartala granted bail to all 23 members.
Speaking to the media, West Bengal education minister Bratya Basu said, “Why is the Tripura government so scared? Tripura government’s actions reveal their undemocratic, fascist nature.”
On July 29, TMC sent two of its MPs Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar and Derek O’Brien to Tripura to protest against the alleged abuse of law and order by the BJP-led government in the state.
In a press conference O’Brien told the media, “Modi-Shah is trying to roll out the 2002 Gujarat model across India. Trinamool Congress is not afraid of all these intimidations. Mamata Banerjee will take you head-on.”
As The Wire has reported, later in the evening, seven Congress leaders of the state including former minister Prakash Chandra Das and former Congress MLA Subal Bhowmik joined TMC.
Right after TMC’s emphatic win in the recent state assembly polls in Bengal, the party revealed that it now plans to expand its political footprint.
While speaking at the annual Shahid Dibash (martyrs’ day) function of the TMC, Mamata Banerjee made most of her speech in Hindi and English, signifying intention to reach a national audience.
For the first time, the Shahid Dibash event was organised outside Bengal, but was held virtually, sticking to COVID-19 norms. The party organised screenings in states like Gujarat, Delhi, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Tripura.
Ahead of Banerjee’s speech on July 21, around 80 TMC workers were detained at Kailash Nagar in Tripura.
Meanwhile, speculation is rife on internal problems in Tripura BJP, with a section of rebel leaders being led by Sudip Roy Barman. Barman was the former health minister in chief minister Biplab Deb’s cabinet and the two have been at loggerheads since BJP came to power in Tripura.
Last year, Barman, along with 10 other MLAs, went to Delhi to meet BJP’s central leadership, but to little effect.
Recently, nine MLAs including Barman skipped a meeting called by Deb.
An MLA believed to be close to Barman, who requested to remain anonymous, told The Wire, “We have issues with the chief minister. I don’t know if our concerns will be addressed by the BJP leadership. No one from TMC got in touch with me. But I know TMC is in touch with some other leaders. Let’s see where it goes.”
Interestingly Barman is a loyalist of Mukul Roy, who returned to the Trinamool Congress last month after spending 44 months with BJP. It is largely because of Roy’s influence that Barman quit TMC and joined the saffron party ahead of the 2018 assembly election.
Sources close to Roy told The Wire, “Mukul Roy has already started reaching out to leaders of Tripura. Election on Tripura is in 2023, there is no hurry. Like Didi (Mamata Banerjee) said, ‘rajye rajye khela hobe’ (game on in all states).”
Last month, amidst widespread speculation of dissenting BJP MLAs deserting the party and returning to the TMC ahead of the next assembly elections in Tripura, three central party leaders – BJP’s national general secretary B.L. Santosh, organisational in-charge of Tripura Phanindra Nath Sharma and North East zonal secretary Ajay Jamwal went to Agartala and held a series of discussions.