Tripura’s new BJP chief minister Biplab Deb started it all. His predecessor Manik Sarkar nicely reciprocated. Offering his respects to the departed Marxist legislator Khagendra Jamatia just after BJP’s stunning poll victory, Biplab Deb turned to Manik Sarkar as he came down the stairs of the CPI (M) party office and touched his feet. “Please bless me and give me all cooperation to develop Tripura further,” said the new to the old. Sarkar promised to back Deb in all initiatives aimed at developing Tripura.
On the day of the swearing-in ceremony, there was some uncertainty whether the outgoing Leftists would join it. CPI (M) state secretary Bijan Dhar had ruled out participation, citing growing attacks on his party workers by BJP enthusiasts going delirious in the first flush of victory. But Biplab Deb, accompanied by minder Ram Madhav, reached the CPI (M) party office and met Manik Sarkar when Deb again touched his feet.
Sarkar reciprocated by turning up at the swearing ceremony with victorious Left legislators, sharing the dais with PM Modi and veterans L K Advani, with whom Sarkar has always shared a very warm personal relationship. As Sarkar was preparing to leave the stage, PM Modi accompanied him to the stairs of the dais. Biplab Deb rushed to Sarkar and touched his feet again, seeking his blessings. Is this not going a bit too far? — asked some BJP supporters. But Deb defends his action, saying he is seeking a new politics of consensus and tolerance, without which the state cannot develop. It is obvious he recognizes some of the good work done by his predecessor in the field of developing infrastructure – and he wants to carry it forward with a vengeance.
Deb is also seeking a new economy based on connectivity through Bangladesh to mainland India. His transport secretary Samarjit Bhowmik has also pitched for a 257-kms rail route to Kalay on the Mizoram-Myanmar border from Ambassa in North Tripura, which Manik Sarkar had cleared for further consideration of Delhi. If these materialize and Tripura opens to Bangladesh in the west and Myanmar in the east, it will surely emerge as the best option for a growth and transport corridor to operationalise Narendra Modi’s Act East drive. Sarkar has done the spadework, forging a strong relationship with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Biplab Deb shares equally intimate and warm relationship with Hasina, who is said to treat him “like a son.”
Encircled on three sides by Bangladesh, Tripura’s future lies in its relationship with its western neighbour. So when other Northeastern states demonize Bangladesh and project it as a demographic threat, tiny Tripura is poised to benefit the most from the economic rise of Bangladesh that has been growing at 6% plus for the better part of this century. Biplab Deb aims to use the Bangladesh clientele to pitch for developing Tripura as a medicare and educational hub, a tourism destination and for exporting its products to the world through Chittagong port.
In a long interview with this writer last week in Agartala, Deb made it clear his priority was development, development and development. Other BJP-ruled states may soon have much to pick up from this young tall strapping chief minister who looks more like a military officer and less like the usual roly-poly Indian politician. Physical fitness and personal discipline and a capacity for real hard work is what Deb shares with the tall and slim fit Manik Sarkar.