Pradyot, who is Tripura Pradesh Congress party’s working president, said the party also offered him a seat in the Rajya Sabha after he turned down their initial offer.
In an exclusive interview to News18, Pradyot revealed that this is not the first time the BJP has approached him. “They approached me twice last year. The BJP’s election in-charge for Tripura, Himanta Biswa Sarma, also gave clear indications although he never explicitly said so. Various leaders besides Himanta approached me to join the BJP,” he said.
The Congress leader said he was not ready to compromise with his ideology or credibility.
“I am not comfortable with BJP’s ideology. I am comfortable with the Congress’s way of thinking. Hence, I refused,” he said.
His claim comes amid a high-pitched poll campaign in the state and barely three days before Tripura votes for a new Assembly on February 18.
The BJP has emerged as the primary opponent to the ruling Left in Tripura by dislodging the Congress from that position. It has fielded 51 candidates for the 60-seat Assembly, leaving nine seats for its tribal-based political ally, IPFT.
Seven of the 10 sitting MLAs of the Congress have already crossed over to the BJP. Six of them have also had a stint with the Trinamool Congress in between. Some of the former Congress heavyweights who switched camps in the run up to the polls include MLAs like Sudip Roy Burman, Ratanlal Nath and Dilip Sarkar.
Pradyot said that BJP in Tripura is working on borrowed organizational strength, and hence, it won’t get good results.
“Once there is a change in Centre in 2019, the same people who have now gone to BJP would want to come back. Some of them were already considering a return if the BJP did not offer them tickets in the state polls. That’s why out of the 51 seats that BJP is fighting, 46 are either former Congress MLAs or had been Congress leaders at some point of time,” he said.
Clarifying that it wasn’t Himanta Biswa Sarma who made that offer when he called on him at his palace in Agartala recently, he said, “It’s flattering to know that they consider me to be a big enough leader to be the face of their party but I cannot work with people who destroyed Congress to join the Trinamool, destroyed Trinamool to join the BJP and are now negotiating their return back to Congress.”
He also alleged that the turncoats were “bought” by the BJP, which he said “is spending unprecedented amount of money for the state polls”.
“Unless these leaders are suddenly attracted towards BJP’s ideology at the age of 55, there’s no reason they should go. The money that BJP is spending is not locally sourced. It’s coming from outside and I think it’s the taxpayers money. I have never seen so much money spent in an election in Tripura. There’s more money spent in this election than the last three elections combined,” he said.
Asked whether the Congress would accept these leaders back in the party, the Pradesh Congress president said they would have to show that their politics is not about opportunism.
“These tainted leaders, the ‘ayarams’ and ‘gayarams’, should be left in the lurch because they are of no use to the Congress. Very soon, the BJP will realise that taking them in the party was a big mistake,” he said.
Pradyot asserted that the fortunes of his party are all set for a turnaround despite the setback of exodus. “The Congress is fighting on the ground. For the first time since 1977, we are contesting in all the seats. Twenty six of our candidates are below the age of 45, 10 among them are below 35. We are giving a chance to young people and we are trying to build a new party. We are fighting not only for survival but also to widen our base,” he said.
Asked about his recent trips to Delhi where he met Congress president Rahul Gandhi, he said, “We discussed ideas on how to regenerate the Congress not just in Tripura, but in the entire North East. Ideas are always shared with a leader who is willing to listen and I have felt that Rahul Gandhi is willing to hear us out.”
He also took a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his frequent election campaign trips to Tripura. “Let the PM come and deliver his speech and return to Delhi. We have our own vision of Tripura which is employment and entrepreneurship, and that does not involve making pakoras. We will be here and ensure that our credibility stays intact.”
Calling the BJP’s political in-roads into Tripura “nothing more than mere hype”, the Congress leader declared, “Come 3 March when the results are out and you’ll see all those who have come here from outside pack their bags and leave. And those left behind would be left thinking that they made a big mistake in joining a party which is not serious about building their organization in this state.”
But for someone who’s perhaps going through the roughest patch of his political career, Pradyot prefers to see this as an opportunity. In his own words, “only when the going gets tough, it’s the tough who get going”.
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