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Mainstream, VOL LV No 38 New Delhi September 9, 2017

Tripura: Left Citadel Under Siege

Saturday 9 September 2017

by Basubrata Roy

The small hilly State of Tripura, unlike other North-Eastern States, is a Left citadel since 1977; except for a brief period in the 1990s.

That’s why the BJP has made it a prestige issue to defeat the CPI-M-led Left Front in the coming Assembly poll, slated for February 2018.

With the elections being informally declared at least three months in advance, the local party, Indigeneous Peoples‘ Front of Tripura (IPFT), is organising rallies and meetings with the open support of the BJP for an indefinite highway blockade.

The local administration had a tough time to face the blockade. But it didn’t stop there. On August 10, a Union Minister of Nagaland origin had addressed a rally in Agartala to boost the tribals’ morale in support of the BJP. The Assam Finance Minister, Dr Himant Biswasharma, has been entrusted with a special charge by the BJP to look after the poll-related issues.

Not to lag behind, the CPI-M-led Left Front too has entered the field by projecting its viewpoint.

What has turned out to be historic for the State Opposition Congress is that first they defected to the Trinamul Congress and then switched over to the BJP. The hills, though being the stronghold of the Left, are under challenge in the coming Assembly poll.

Tripura had to bear the wounds of partition due to the large-scale influx of refugees from the then East Pakistan. The local tribes being of peaceful nature didn’t then protest. However, after the liberation of Bangladesh when the large-scale illegal migrants got settled in the small State, rumblings in the society started.

The tribals’ demands for the ouster of the post-1971 refugees went unheeded; in this backdrop took place the bloody 1980 tribal-Bengali riots, leaving a permanent scar in the beautiful culture interwomen in the State.

The Left-ruled State Government has, how-ever, blamed the CIA of seeking to derail the Left by making exchange crises of money on one side and flooding the market with fake currency notes to create mass disturbance on the other.

Whatever may be the facts, the present scenario is highly complex. A State with more than 36-lakh population, of whom around one-and-a-half lakh are employed in the government sector. Though the ruling Left has ultimately conceded to give more to the State employees, the BJP promises to set up a full-fledged Pay Commission.

Incidentally, the much ignited political scene doesn’t keep any track with the past. Tripura attained Statehood in January 1972. After the attainment of Statehood the general elections were held in March 1972 to elect Sukhamaya Sengupta as the first Congress Chief Minister. The seeds of the quarrel were sown when the Congress Chief Minister had delimited the tribal reserves to accommodate the Bangladesh refugees.

The tiny State has a lot of untold miseries. The Dumbur hydel project of South Tripura made lakhs of tribals refugees in the early sixties, and they are yet to be rehabilitated. Moreover, the traditional tribal shifting culti-vation, locally known as “jhum”, is under constant threat from the Forest Department. The Forest Department had already grabbed a lot of jhum land from the tribals by playing tricks.

At the end of the jhum season when the tribals prepare to shift, the Forest Department lure them to plant the forest saplings at a high cost in the jhum land. The poor jhumias in return for money readily obey to do so. However, after a period when the tribals return to their earlier jhum land, they find it occupied by the Forest Department. Even now there is hardly any front to fight the tribal refugees’ cause. Moreover, the prolonged terrorism too has taken a heavy toll.

Tripura merged with the Union of India on September 9, 1949. The Merger Agreement was signed by Maharani Kanchan Prabha Devi on behalf of the minor, Maharaja Kirit Bikram. The eight-hundred year long Manikaya dynasty thus ceased to function. Incidentally, the Manikaya rulers are the straight descendents of the earlier rulers ‘Fa’. ‘Fa’ in Chinese means Father. Like ‘Fa Hien’.

The State, being as big as the size of a district of any other big State, has an international border with Bangladesh, measuring 833 km except a small thread of link with Assam.

The State thus being a hotbed as international politics has always faced International conspi-racies and crimes. The CPI-M has already blamed the BJP of seeking to create communal tension in the State to come to power. Moreover the party has blamed the BJP of hatching a Manipur-style conspiracy. This has become clear by the party stand spelt out by the party General Secretary, Sitaram Yachury, that the next Assembly poll in Tripura is going to be a Waterloo for the BJP.

In the sixty-member Assembly in the State, only twenty seats are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes in the hills. While the Left has over the years developed its own style of being in touch with the masses both in the hills and plains, how the Opposition BJP is to give resistance to it is yet to be seen. The capital Agartala is in the meantime reverberating with rallies and counter-rallies much before the announcement of the poll schedule.

The author is a senior journalist based in Agartala.

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