History of Tripura

Down the annals of history Tripura has been known to be an exotic geographical entity silhouetted by lush green hills and dotted with fertile valleys crisscrossed by flowing rivers—home to benign tribals co-existing with their Bengali neighbours.

The present state of Tripura, bordered on three sides by Bangladesh and on two sides by neighbouring states of Assam and Mizoram, is only a fragment of its earlier glorious self exercising sovereign control over the whole of present Comilla district and parts of Noakhali, Sylhet and Chittagong districts of Bangladesh.

The legacy of a major accident of sub-continental history-the partition of 1947-continues to haunt Tripura in the form of daunting socio-economic and ethnic turmoil. But with all the storm and stress on its ethnic mosaic, socio-economic and political life tiny Tripura-blessed with the bounties of nature-continues to cast a spell on all with its vitality of life and vibrantness.

The erstwhile princely Tripura's glorious history under the rule of Manikya dynasty monarchs, its rich cultural heritage coupled with the state's human and natural resources present a fascinating subject for study and research. However, the opening chapter of the present volume, our attempt at building up in letters an encyclopedia on Tripura, seeks to encapsulate the very basic data on the 'Queen of Hills'-an ornamental name given to post-independence Tripura by enchanted visitors.

Creation of Bangladesh and fall-out

Even as Tripura was moving inexorably towards full-fledged statehood political turmoil in neighbouring East Pakistan cast a deep shadow over Indo-Pak relations. In the year 1970 natural disaster in the form of cyclone and tornado struck a mortal blowto south and south eastern parts of what was then East Pakistan. As a result several lakhs of people lost their lives while damage to properties and crops was also colossal. The ruling military junta of Pakistan dominated by the Punjabi and Pathani army personnel did precious little to provide even minimum relief to the people. The frustration of the people of Pakistan was reflected in the election to the Pakistan National Assembly, held within months of the natural disaster as Awami League led by ‘Bangabandhu’ Sheikh MujiburRahaman made a near clean sweep of the 170 national assemblyseats allotted to East Pakistan and emerged as the natural choice as prime minister by virtue of his standing as the leader of the party which had secured an absolute majority in the polls. But the Pak military junta, goaded by Mr Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto of Peoples Party of Pakistan (PPP), started dilly-dallying over allowing Awami League and Sheikh Mujibur to take over the reins of power. This triggered a desperate reaction among the people of East Pakistan. In his historic address at Dhaka’s ‘Romna Maidan’ on March 7,1971 Sheikh Mujibur gave a clarion call for all out struggle against Pakistan’s military junta for independence. There were large scale disturbances as Pakistani military unit in East Pakistan headed by Lt General Tikka Khan cracked down on the innocent and unarmed people of ‘Bangladesh’, indiscriminately massacring people, destroying places of worship and raping thousands of women. This provoked a massive influx of evacuees into bordering Indian statesincluding Tripura. Tiny Tripura which had a total population ofonly a little more than 15 lakhs as per 1971 census had to shelteran equal number of refugees. The state government headed by Mr Sachindra Lal Singh proved equal to the daunting task and even as evacuees remained sheltered in hundreds of camps Tripura became a major launching pad for liberation war of Bangladesh against Pakistan’s occupation army. However, an important political development occurred in Tripura. The chief minister Mr Sachindra Lal Singha fell foul of congress high command and incurred Ms Indira Gandhi’s displeasure. Mr Singh apparently lost majority support in the congress legislature party and was forced to resign, paving the way for imposition of president’s rule in Tripura for the first time on November 4, 1971. This was also the time when thecentral government headed by Prime Minister Ms Indira Gandhiwas seized with the issue of second politico-administrative reorganization of Northeast which envisaged creation of new statesand union territories in deference to the wishes and aspirations ofthe people of the backward region. The liberation war of Bangladesh carried on jointly by the ‘Mukti Bahini’ (liberationforce) and Indian army and paramilitary personnel was moving towards a logical conclusion. After a brief Indo-Pak war in the course of which the occupation army in Bangladesh suffered a total rout Dhaka fell to ‘Mukti Bahini’ and Indian army on December 16, 1971. On the home front the second Reorganization of Northeast act was passed by parliament on December 30, 1971. The Act became effective since January  21, 1972 making Tripura,Manipur and Meghalaya fullfledged states and according union territory status on Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. The  post of Lt. Governor was immediately upgraded to that of governor and Mr. Braja Kumar (B.K.) Nehru took over as Tripura’s first governor.

Tripura: A full-fledged state of the union

The conferment of the full-fledged statehood on Tripura brought to fruition the long-cherished political aspirations of the state’s people. Amidst all-round jubilation election to the state assembly came off on March 11, 1972 and, as expected, Congress party headed by Sukhamay Sengupta emerged clear Winners, securing 41 of the 60 assembly seats-the CPI (M) won 18 seats while CPI captured one seat only. Apparently all was well as Sukhamay Sengupta kept ruling the state with his typical administrative high-handedness. However, dark cloud was gathering in the distant horizon with TUJS carrying on a virulent campaign for ADC, evoking ‘equal and opposite reaction’ from the ‘Amra Bangali’, and appendage of the shady ‘Ananda Marg’ which set in motion a rival campaign to forestall setting up of district council. The CPI (M) started gaining in strength mainly by organizing government employees through its powerful front organization ‘Tripura Employees Co-ordination Committee’ (TECC) to which the government responded by coercive measures. Mr Sengupta suffered a major setback in 1974 when Congress lost the election to the lone Rajya Sabha seat because of dissension within the party. With the imposition of emergency the state government became oppressive indiscriminately dismissing employees, arresting people and unleashing police on many an innocent citizen. Apart from prominent leaders of CPI (M) like Mr. Nirpen Chakraborty, Mr. Dasharath Deb a number of Congressmen like Mr. Samir Ranjan Barman and Mr. Tapas De, Editor of the largest-circulated and pro-people local daily ‘Dainik Sambad’, Mr Bhupen Datta-Bhowmik were put behind bars. The withdrawal of emergency by Ms Indira Gandhi was followed by Lok Sabha election on March 16, 1977. Rent by internal dissension ruling Congress in Tripura was in a poor shape; so was the CPI (M) because of persecution of the party’s workers and supporters during emergency and the late release of leaders from jail left the Marxists with hardly any time to prepare for the polls. The old warhorse Mr. Sachindra Lal Singha descended on Tripura afresh as Lok Sabha candidate for newly-formed Congress for Democracy (CFD) and won the polls from west Tripura seat by a narrow margin, defeating congress candidate Mr. Tarit Mohan Dasgupta. In the tribal reserve East Tripura Loksabha seat Maharaja Kirit Bikram contesting on Congress ticket edged out CPI (M) leader Dasharath Deb in a keen contest.
Source: Rajmala, A Political History of Tripura, Jagadish Gan Choudhury, Tripura Administration, Bani Kanta Bhattacharjee.

Some important Tribal Movements / Revolts in Tripura

Tripuri Movement (1850) - As a protest against the tortures of theRoyal Dewaan Balaram Hazari and other royal executives, the Tripuri people revolted under the leadership of Kirti and Parikshit.
Kuki Bidroha (1860-61) – The famous Kuki leader Ratan Puiyaa declared war against the monarchy on behalf of the Kuki community.
Jamatia Bidroha (1863) – There was an armed rebellion by the Jamatias which was in the later period handled strictly by the state.
Reang Bidroha (1939-43) – The Reang people fought the imperialism under the leadership of Ratanmani Royaja.
Golaghati Krishak Bidroha (1948) - The rural peasants of Golaghati belonging to Debbarma community took weapons against the rulers.
Source: State Archives

Post-Independence Tripura

The end of nearly five hundred years of Manikya dynasty rule in Tripura was followed by socioeconomic and political upheavals. From the tribal point of view it was a disaster as the royalty, always looked upon as patriarch, ceased to have an effective rolein the affairs of the state while ceaseless influx of refugees threatened to swamp them .The undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) which had established a strong base by then among the indigenous tribals under the leadership of former chief ministers Dasharath Deb and Nripen Chakraborty continued to demand ‘proper rehabilitation of refugees’ to protect the backward tribal community from encroachment on their land and economic marginalisation .The demand was categorically raised in a document of the CPI in its state conference in 1952. The state Congress led by late Sachindra lal Singha and Sukhamay Sengupta, on the other hand, welcomed the influx of refugees as a Political ‘blessing’ as the settlers provided them with a readymade electoral support base. The unfolding decades since October, 1949 thus continued to be dominated by influx of refugees and attempts to safeguard the indigenous tribal community from the adverse effectsas well as a series of administrative changes. With the coming into force of the constitution on January 26, 1950 Tripura became a category ‘C’ state ruled by chief commissioner without any state assembly. Mr R.K.Roy (ICS) who had been officiating as ‘Dewan’ since July 8, 1949 became Tripura’s first chief commissioner after merger. This was followed by election to 16 member Agartala Municipality on November 5, 1951. The first general election took place in Tripura along with the rest of the country between January 11th and 25th 1952 and with Dasharath Deb and Biren Datta pipping Congress rivals to the post the CPI bagged both the Lok Sabha seats with convincing margins. Along with Lok Sabha election a thirty member electoral college was also constituted through secret ballot to elect Tripura’s sole representative to the Rajya Sabha. The CPI secured the majority of seats in the electoral college and Mr Arman Ali Munshi, an independent candidate supported by them, became Tripura’s first elected representativeto the Rajya Sabha. An interesting point regarding election to Rajya Sabha is that initially a single seat had been provided forTripura and Manipur to be represented for two years each and after the stipulated two year period for Tripura lapsed similar electoral college in Manipur elected its representative for two more years. The electoral college in Tripura however remained in animated suspension and in 1956 elected Maulana Abdul Latif of Congress as Tripura’s second representative to the Rajya Sabha. Even as the momentous developments were unfolding the political demand for representative government through elected legislature started gaining in momentum. The state Congress leadership was in favour of the representative government but the CPI was in the forefront of the movement. As the first tentative step towards giving the people a say in the new administration began the president of India acting on the ‘aid and advice’ of union home ministry appointedon April 14, 1953 three member council of advisors to assist the chief commissioner in running the administration in Tripura. Senior congress leaders Mr Sachindra lal Singha, Mr Sukhamay Sengupta and Mr Jitendra Thakur (Debbar-man) were nominated as advisors.

Effect of the Partition on Tripura

The partition of India in 1947 had an enormous effect on the process of social and economic development of the State. The Partition deprived the state of its chief railheads in the west, southand north which fell in East Pakistan so that the state was effectively cut off from the rest of the country but for a tenuous road link. This resulted in a huge infrastructural and economic setback for Tripura. The state’s resources came under severe strain due to a heavy influx of refugees into the state from East Pakistan right from the early fifties. This created tremendous pressure on an already over-burdened land with little infrastructural facilities and insignificant supporting industries. Even after the upheaval of Partition, migration from East Pakistan tended to swell the population of Tripura, especially during and immediately after theBangladesh War. This tended to add to the population pressure onthe State. The initial decades after Independence in Tripura were, therefore, typified by an economically poor populace within which the disadvantaged sections of ST and SC were even poorer and poor physical infrastructure which again was largely Agartala centric. There was practically no inter- State communication, in the absence of rail or road network, and even within the State the road communication infrastructure was highly inadequate. Many of the Sub-Divisional and Block Headquarters did not have roads and to reach some of these places required travel on foot for several days. A large proportion of the population did not have access to health and education and were dependent on the forests for their livelihood. The financial condition of the Government was also quite unsatisfactory and it was hardly able to meet the requirements of a developing State. Agriculture was largely jhum based and, therefore on subsistence levels. The economy was primarily agriculture and forest based and with no manufacturing activity.