-By Tapas Dey
A great political scientist had once perceptively commented ‘ the question of national sovereignty is uncompromisable’. It is truly so as evident from historical records. The point is illustrated tellingly by the case of Tripura and its ethno-centric politics. It is now an axiom of history that Tripura had a sprinkling of non-tribal Bengali population since the first imperial census of 1872 but, despite erroneous enumeration in many cases, there was a balance in the population of tribals and non-tribals till the middle of last century when erstwhile princely Tripura had merged with the Indian union with effect from October 15 1949. This was followed by an avalanche of non-tribal Bengali refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and the demographic balance was inalterably changed, reducing the indigenous tribals to a minority in their own home-land. By 1981 census the tribal population in Tripura had reached its nadir at 28.44% but even in 1961 the same population had dipped to 31.76% following an influx of over 78% refugees over the past decade. Many stalwarts of national and state politics including the then union home minster G.B.Panth and U.N.Dhevar had been conscious of the problem and it was articulated in the parliament itself but nothing happened to change the scenario in a concrete form.
In this bleak scenario when all parties in Tripura had failed to protect the tribal interests the TUJS emerged in June 1967 as the first ethno-centric party of Tripura with a four point charter of demands including the demand for a district council . This demand was upgraded to the demand for extension of 6th schedule of the constitution in the state. There was a natural counter-reaction as the ‘Amra Bangali’ , front of the dubious ‘Anand Marg’ launched a movement designed to forestall the establishment of ADC in Tripura on the ground that it would destroy Bengali right over land. The movements continued on conflicting demands and bringing about in its wake a sharpening ethnic polarization . The failure of the new left front government that had come to power in 1978 to initiate administrative measures to rein in the conflicting parties and moments finally led to riots in 1979 and 1980 and the ADC , based on 5th schedule , came into being through elections in January 1982. This passed under the 6th schedule with effect from April 1985 after the then prime minister Indira Gandhi had amended the constitution in August 1984 to extend it to Tripura ADC.
With the establishment of ADC issue-based TUJS’s almost all demands had been fulfilled but still the party continued to retain its relevance through the politics of tribalism and identity. There was also a process of fragmentation in tribal politics through merger of TUJS with a large entity called INPT but IPFT remained in the political arena with its more militant brand of politics . There was a time when IPFT openly hobnobbed with the militants outfits and then it took up the demand for separate ‘Twipraland’ state which is the hot issue now even though all other parties openly acknowledge the futility of the demand for dividing Tripura further.
But the separate state demand based on identity politics had been fuelled by the Marxists and their opportunistic policies . Former chief minister late Dasharath Deb had authored a booklet titled ‘Tripurar Gana Andoloner Chhay Dashak’ which made a thinly veiled enunciation of the idea of separateness to retain the distinctiveness of the tribal culture and tradition . Earlier in his book ‘Mukti Parishader Itibritta’ Deb had admitted that a section of tribals had become communalized in the forties of the last century itself . Apart from this , Dasharath Deb’s so-called armed struggle under the banner of undivided communist party in 1948-1950 and even earlier had actually been a ‘Bangal Kheda’ (drive out Bengalis) movement . Naturally , politics of identity and tribalism has now given way to the demand for separate state and , more so, because tribals of Tripura are no longer tribals in terms of consciousness and well-identified features . They are a full-fledged nationality trying to carve out a niche for themselves in peninsular India . It is of course unknown whether the church which now has almost an all-pervasive presence is playing any role. But the most opportunistic role was played by the Marxists or CPI (M) during their five year stint in opposition between 1988 and 1993 when they had floated a militant outfit under the banner of ATTF and deeply communalized the ethnic relations in the state for the sake of coming back to power besides raising such opportunistic demands as innerline regulations etc which they had opposed tooth and nail earlier. This overall propaganda designed to put the TUJS and Congress on the defensive came back to haunt them after they had returned to power in 1993 and people of the state paid a heavy price.
Today’s separate state demand is a direct sequel to CPI (M)’s opportunistic politics and unscrupulousness for recapturing power . Now the CPI (M) is trying to shake off any responsibility for the bizarre turn of events but the way things have been moving lot of political turmoil and even violence can not be ruled out in advance . The CPI (M) must account for this to the people and must do everything possible to ameliorate the situation.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Features image courtesy: PTI