Low-Key Politician With Penchant For 'Clean Politics'—Manik Saha To Be Tripura CM Again
As the CM with a full five-year term awaiting him, the challenges for Saha this time are enormous.
Dentist-turned-politician Manik Saha will continue as the chief minister of Tripura, newly-elected legislators of the Bharatiya Janata Party decided on Monday.
Saha and his ministers will be sworn in on Wednesday in a ceremony that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and party president JP Nadda are expected to attend.
Assam Chief Minister and Northeast Democratic Alliance head Himanta Biswa Sarma had visited Tripura on Sunday to assess the situation after the BJP won the elections last week. However, there is still no clarity on who will be the deputy CM. This is critical as the BJP's tribal face and former deputy CM Jishnu Dev Verma had lost the polls.
Saha won from Town Bardowali with 19,586 votes in the recently-held Tripura assembly polls, where the BJP won 32 of the 60 seats. However, his victory was slim with a margin of just a little over 1,000 votes against Congress' Asish Kumar Saha.
Originally an oral and maxillofacial surgery specialist, Saha took over as chief of Tripura's BJP unit in 2020. He was with the Congress before joining the BJP. He was the state president of the saffron party from 2020 to 2022. Saha was picked by Deb himself when there was an insistence of one man holding one post in the party.
Soon, Saha's political career took off and he became a Rajya Sabha MP. When there was a cloud of uncertainty over Deb's continual as CM due to many factors, Saha was the preferred choice of the party leadership. Party leaders said his stint as the president of the Tripura Cricket Association was particularly blemish-free and that had also impressed the party leadership. Before joining politics, Saha used to teach at the Tripura Medical College in Hapania.
Party workers said Saha's working style was much different from Deb's, with the former deliberately staying away from making statements that could put him in the spotlight or assuming a personality that could be deemed stronger than the party. A senior BJP leader recalled that as soon as Saha took over as CM, he made it clear to his party worker that he will follow the orders of the central leadership and work to implement the vision without asking too many questions.
Although seen as Deb's loyalist earlier, Saha had worked on creating an identity for himself in the last six months, playing on his strengths of having an upright image and being trusted by the central leadership. This is perhaps what gave him the edge over other candidates, including Union minister Pratima Bhoumik, who also contested and won this time.
The choice of Saha to lead Tripura again is reflective of the BJP keeping up its tradition of repeating its chief minister after winning polls, just what it did recently in Uttarakhand and Gujarat. In both cases, Pushkar Dhami and Bhupendra Patel were chosen to lead the respective states after the BJP had decided to get rid of the old CMs. In fact, the BJP went ahead with its old CM face in most cases—except in Assam where the party fought with Sarbananda Sonowal as CM, but appointed Sarma as the CM and brought Sonowal as a Union minister.
As the CM with a full five-year term awaiting him, the challenges for Saha this time are enormous. The emergence of the Tipra Motha Party as a dominant force in tribal seats, and the increasing faultlines between Bengali and tribal communities in the state have to be addressed. But to start with, the immediate task for Saha will be putting in place a stronger administration and ensuring proper law and order in the state. Scores of people were injured in Tripura after several incidents of post-poll violence were reported last week.
In the assembly polls, BJP's seat tally came down from 36 in 2018 and its vote share was also diminished—39% to 2018's 43.59%. Saha's challenges will also be to get the party to look into this loss and prepare the state unit to face the Lok Sabha polls next year.
"The Congress improved its share from 1.41 per cent to 8.56 per cent, while Tipra Motha won 13 seats in tribal areas," another functionary said. "It is anybody's guess that if players come together, they can harm the BJP, which is why the party needs to start preparing from now."
Saha has also said he will take up the issue of the high-power modality committee, which was constituted to look into the socio-economic-linguistic development of the state's indigenous people. The Centre had constituted the committee, but the recommendations of the panel have not been made public yet.