The following piece appeared in The Statesman for the much popular
North-East Page, July 11, 2011.
'Eyes on Tripura Red Fort'
- nirendra dev
“THIS country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in,” runs a line in a booklet published by the Tripura Department of Welfare of Scheduled Tribes.
An ancient land, Tripura has ever been a melting pot of tribal and non-tribal culture producing an exotic synthesis. This however, is to be taken with a pinch of salt as the state is now a mini-Bengal, with Bengali spoken in every nook and corner and signboards in Bangla. In short, it is a state where natives have been outnumbered by the people from across the border, mostly Hindu Bengalis from Sylhet, Mymensing and Noakhali.
Even secretary to the Government of India’s rural development ministry, Mr BK Sinha, who flagged off the nationwide below poverty line socio-economic census from the Hezamara block near Agartala, on 29 June, 2011, addressed the gathering in Bangla, trying to give the occasion a local touch.
Kokborok, the language of native Tripuris, is hardly a match for Bangladeshi rhetoric. Pidgin Sylheti (or Bangal bhasa) is so deeply inherent in society that even election slogans are written in Sylheti like “Deikha Jao go Sonia, CPI(M)-er Duniya” (Come Sonia and see what the CPI-M has made out of Tripura). Post the Mamata Banerjee hurricane in West Bengal, where the Leftists have been shown the doors, the Congress in Tripura is also nurturing hopes to do some sort of a political miracle in the Assembly elections due in 2013. Now the state is firmly in the grip of the Leftists under the leadership of a low-profile chief minister Manik Sarkar, who is otherwise admired for his integrity and administrative acumen.
The Hezamara block we visited is probably a testimony to the chief minister’s administrative ability. Several locals, including security personnel, say a few years ago, organising such a function on a national scale was out of question. The block has been a hotbed of extremists where for long the Tripura National Volunteers led by Bijoy
Hrangkhawl, ruled the roost. After the latter surrendered in 1988, came another militant group All Tripura Tiger Force. The adjoining thick jungles and porous border along Bangladesh provided a good hunting ground for them.
In fact, Tripura now heaves a sigh of relief that insurgency is now on the wane and they praise Manik Sarkar for this. While the CPI-M has kept itself close to tribals by harping on demands like constitutional autonomy, it has been cautious also not to hurt Bengali sentiment. The Congress, on the other hand, is identified as a pro-Bengali and thus anti-tribal party. The Congress’ alliance with the TNV has also not helped change that perception. On 29 June, 2011, the Tripura Congress, under the leadership of Pradesh Congress chief Surajit Dutta organised a rally in Agartala. The turn-out was impressive given its dwindling organisational strength. This even surprised Leftist supporters. If the Congress wants to do well in 2013 elections it must get its act together. The Trinamul Congress has also made its presence felt in the state. So far, the party has ruled the possibility of any tie-up with the Congress, the feeling being that it will come to power on its own. It is too premature to say that Left are on the way out.
No other North-eastern state is in the vice-like grip of indiscriminate kidnapping syndrome. What irks the Intelligence establishment and the Union home ministry more is that Tripura has already emerged as a corridor for pushing arms into other states in the North-east. IB and RAW often submit identical reports of Tripura-based outfits ~ ATTF and NLFT ~ being engaged in procuring arms from Thailand and Singapore and depositing them at Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, the notorious illegal arms centre.
Tripura also has a history of politico-insurgent groups’ nexus. Many fear that they will be active as the elections approach.