Manik Saha during the swearing in ceremony

Manik Saha, a dental surgeon turned politician, was sworn in as Tripura chief minister for the second time, heading a BJP-IPFT government, in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Agartala on March 8.

Alongside Manik Saha, eight cabinet ministers – seven BJP legislators and one from its alliance partner IPFT – were administered the oath of office and secrecy by governor Satyadev Narian Araya at a mega event in the Vivekananda Stadium.

Union home minister Amit Shah, BJP national president JP Nadda, and chief ministers of Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Manipur – Pema Khandu, Prem Singh Tamang, and N Biren Singh respectively – graced the ceremony.

Manik Saha had become chief minister for the first time last May after the BJP high command asked then-incumbent Biplab Kumar Deb to step-down following massive opposition against him within the party.

The ministers inducted on March 8 include four new faces.

Four ministers in Saha’s previous cabinet – Ratan Lal Nath, Pranajit Singha Roy, Santana Chakma and Sushanta Chowdhury have been included in the new cabinet. The four new faces include three first-time MLAs Tinku Roy and Bikash Debbarma (BJP) and the sole IPFT lawmaker Shukla Charan Noatia. The other new inductee is second-time MLA Sudhanshu Das (BJP).

Three setting ministers including two veteran BJP leaders – jail minister Ramprasad Paul and tribal welfare minister Rampada Jamatia – and industries minister Manoj Kanti Deb were excluded from Saha’s cabinet despite winning the electoral battle due to their poor performance in the outgoing cabinet, BJP sources claimed.

“I am committed to the development of the state without any political consideration. I believe in a democracy people have the right to vote for opposition parties and the co-existence of the ruling party and opposition is the beauty of India, which led to development and prosperity. Under the guidance of Prime Minister Modiji, we shall drive Tripura into a model state,” Saha said after the day’s swearing-in ceremony.

However, three ministerial berths in the cabinet including the slot of the deputy chief minister have been kept vacant, and according to sources, these would be filled up with the MLAs of the second-largest party TIPRA Motha if it agrees to join the government.

In the state assembly polls held on February 16, BJP got a clear majority winning 32 seats in the 60-member house, while it’s ally IPFT bagged one seat.

TIPRA Motha won 13 of the 20 tribal reserved constituencies to emerge as the main opposition edging out the state’s dominant parties CPI-M and Congress. The CPI-M-led Left Front and Congress had fought the election together after a seat-sharing deal to throw a challenge to the BJP. However, the CPI-M managed only 11 seats and Congress got three seats.

Saha, however, faced a tough challenge in retaining the chief minister’s post from the union minister of state for social justice and empowerment Pratima Bhowmik. With the support of central leaders and Modi, Saha got the coveted post, while Bhowmik couldn’t even manage a cabinet berth.

According to sources, BJP central leadership has been persuading TIPRA Motha to join the government, but its chief royal scion Pradyot Kishore Debbarman sought a written commitment from the saffron outfit for a constitutional solution to his party’s Greater Tipraland demand.

Pradyot claimed that he had received many calls from BJP to join the government, but declined as he wanted a constitutional solution to tribal issues.

He said, “I have made my position clear that if they can’t do anything for our demand then there will be no difference between TIPRA and IPFT. We want to end up the miseries of 14 lakh indigenous population. Without that, we have no interest in 2-3 ministerial berths.”

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