Tripura : Fifty years as full-fledged state, socio-political development down memory lane

Shekhar Dutta

January 21, 2022, 08:43:10   

Tripura : Fifty years as full-fledged state, socio-political development down memory lane

Any commemoration or celebration of an occasion invariably spark nostalgic effusion from participants as well as witnesses of the event. "It was bliss to be alive on that day and to be a participant in the celebrations was sheer ecstasy" poetized veteran intellectual and journalist Bikach Chowdhury, former press officer to then chief minister Sukhamay Sengupta (1972-1977),  now leading a retired life in Calcutta. Indira Gandhi, arguably India's most powerful Prime Minister, had inaugurated the momentous statehood to hysteric cheers from a record turn-out in the Assam Rifles ground. This year-the third Covid year in succession-Tripura is all set to celebrate the golden jubilee of its full-fledged statehood conferred on January 21 1972 along with the states of Meghalaya and Manipur. It was a momentous occasion as the erstwhile princely state, ruled uninterruptedly for close to 550 years by the benevolent Manikya dynasty rulers, had made the final transition from autocratic princely state to a full-fledged democratic polity based on universal adult franchise. This transition was marked by lot of struggles and stress. 

Princely Tripura’s last king Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya (1923-1947) had breathed his last on May 17 1947 at a time when the entire Indian sub-continent was being ravaged by political storm and stress because of the inevitability of vivisection of the ancient land into India and Pakistan . Before his premature death king Bir Bikram had however issued a royal edict on April 28 in state gazette putting on record his decision to merge his domain with the Indian union . There was great instability and disquiet in the entire state over Bir Bikram's premature death as the state had passed on to the control of a three member Regency Council headed by widowed Maharani Kanchan Prava Debi since the successor  prince Kirit Bikram Kishore Manikya was a minor. The Maharani signed the instrument of accession on 13th August 1947 and kept on ruling the state and finally the agreement of merger of the state with Indian union was signed on 9th September 1949 and from October 15 that year Tripura passed under the rule of Centre as a constituent unit , classified as a 'C' category state by the constitution that had come into effect on and from January 26 1950. From then on the state was ruled by a Chief Commissioner who was actually a high bureaucrat but the demand for popular representative rule grew strident with movements launched by the Congress as well as undivided communist party of India (CPI). At that time  the state , specially its hill interiors, was being pulverized by a communist insurrection which ended in the year 1952 with the withdrawal of the central ban order. 

This period of turbulence was being underlined by a silent demographic upheaval as riot-stricken Bengalis from erstwhile East Pakistan, mostly from the Tripura kings' plainland domain in eastern Bengal, the Chakla Roshanabad, had started pouring in the then Hill Tipperah in search of shelter and safety. This change in demography was manifested in relegation of the indigenous tribals to a minority of only 28.44% by the census of 1981 but there was no voice of dissent from the generous hearted indigenous people endowed with  pristine simplicity. Moreover, Tripura always had a Bengali population-30% as recorded in the very first British imperial census of 1872-patronised by the princely rulers who had prioritized the cultivation of plainland for augmenting revenue. In fact as the influx from riot-ravaged East Bengal had commenced as a trickle in 1941 after the Raipura riots near Dhaka king Bir Bikram had set up reception centres for the newcomers most of whom were actually his subject people. But the trickle soon became a tidal wave ,altering the delicate demographic equation in the state, sowing the poisoned seeds of discord in the following decades.

The state reorganization commission-1953 constituted by Pandit Nehru had recommended Tripura's merger with Assam for reasons of economic viability , triggering off statewide protests and a movement and finally Centre agreed to upgrade Tripura to the status of a union territory with an elected thirty member territorial council of limited power with effect from November 1 1957. It was with effect from July 1 1963 that the territorial council had been upgraded to a territorial assembly with a five member council of ministers headed by Sachindra Lal Singha of Congress as the first chief minister. As days passed the demand for full-fledged statehood intensified with movements launched by the CPI (M) as well as Congress and, faced with similar demands from other central territorial units, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi passed the Second Reorganization of Northeast Act in October 1971 upgrading the union territories of Meghalaya , Tripura and Manipur to full-fledged statehood and making Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh union territories with effect from January 21 1972. 

However, the conferment of full-fledged statehood on Tripura had been preceded by a crisis spawned by the liberation war of Bangladesh triggered by Pakistani army's countrywide  crackdown on innocent civilians on the eerie night of 26th March 1971 under the code name of 'Operation Searchlight'  and the genocide in its wake. More than 15 lakh terror-stricken evacuees from East Pakistan (Bangladesh) had taken shelter in camps of Tripura at a time when the state's population was an equivalent number. The state government under Sachindra Lal Singh as chief minister and later under president's rule since November did a good job of caring for the evacuees who went back within days of liberation, leaving no trail of residual infiltrators . Contrary to popular perception and belief the Bangladesh liberation war had not significantly exacerbated  Tripura’s post-merger problem of influx from East Pakistan. This is borne out by the fact that  barring 1981 all subsequent census enumeration between 1991-2011 recorded a positive growth of tribal population in the state-that is, higher growth level than the majority  non-tribal population.

There were a host of administrative changes in the wake of full fledged statehood as the state was divided into three districts and larger units at the lower level . But the Congress party headed by Sukhamay Sengupta who had decisively won the election to the sixty member assembly , riding the crest of Indira wave after the victory in war with Pakistan and liberation of Bangladesh, introduced a more or less oppressive rule marked by frequent invocation of draconian laws like MISA ,DIR, Rule-5  and other acts to suppress opposition and government employees. Tripura's by now familiar ethnic conflict had also  started coming to the fore from the time of Sukhamay Sengupta with the formation of Tripura Upajati Juba Samity (TUJS) earlier in June 1967. Finally after the disastrous emergency the Congress ministry fell on account of defections and after two successive and short-lived , fragile coalitions assembly polls were held on December 31 1977 under president’s rule. It was the left front all the way as the CPI (M) led alliance had won 56 out of state's sixty assembly seats, taking advantage of fragmentation of Congress votes among Congress, Janata Party and CFD . But the most significant development was the TUJS victory in four assembly seats and the formal beginning of an ethnic explosion in the till then peaceful state although grounds for this had been quite fertile in the post-merger decades.

Tripura’s ethno-centric politics  erupted in full fury shortly after the left front headed by Nripen Chakraborty had come to power with the simmering discontent among indigenous tribals finding expression in TUJS's movement for ADC based on 6th schedule and 'Amra Bangali' party opposing it tooth and nail. The state witnessed the first ethnic riots in May 1979 on a limited scale and the second within a year in June 1980 and the left front constituted the ADC based on 5th schedule in January 1982 . But the movement for 6th schedule continued as it required an amendment of the constitution which was finally effected by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi in August 1984 . Consequently , Tripura ADC passed under the 6th schedule with effect from April 1 1985 with the left front winning fresh polls held on June 30 1985. Nripen Chakraborty's government (1978-1988) did lot of development works for the state and had a well-oiled organizational machinery but the spate of political murders of opposition Congress workers and supporters and the tribal insurgency led by TNV and its leader Bijay Kumar Hrangkhawal who had formed his militant outfit on December 21 1978 in Kachhima village in Amarpur subdivision put the left front on the defensive. Finally with central intervention the ethnic polarization reached a flash point and the left front narrowly lost the assembly polls of 1988 with a 29-31 margin. 

The next phase in the state was a disastrous five year rule of Congress-TUJS coalition government which saw a near total breakdown of law and order marked by a spate of political murders and unprecedented corruption. Even though the Congress-TUJS coalition gave lot of jobs , the inherent instability of the government reflected in removal of Sudhir Ranjan Majumder and appointment of Samir Ranjan Barman as the chief minister, worsened by a police mutiny and statewide lawyers revolt, undid the coalition whose hallmark was reduction of all elections to a farce. Finally under president’s rule the Congress-TUJS exited power in the elections held in April 1993. The next left front government headed by Dasharath Deb as chief minister with a 49-11 majority thrived on weaknesses of the opposition as the government had lost its effectiveness following a paralytic stroke suffered by the Dasharath Deb in December 1995. The insurgency by two ATTF and NLFT was reaching  peak that time.

There was a change of guard in 1998 when Manik Sarkar became the chief minister for four consecutive terms . Sarkar with his colleagues ruled the state more or less effectively , implementing largescale development programmes , restoring the law and order and virtually putting a near total stop to political murders and violence , a special and dark feature of left rule everywhere. But the nemesis waiting in the wings finally struck an over-confident left front in the run-up to the assembly polls of 2018. After long twenty five years of continued left rule the state and its people desperately waited for a change and the BJP delivered it although the party had secured a paltry 1.87% votes in 2013 polls. The emergence of BJP in central power in 2014 under a towering Narendra Modi and success of the party in northeast convinced the electorate here that the party could unseat the left front. What facilitated the process was the BJP's so-called 'Vision Document' released days ahead of the February 2018 polls, making altogether 299 promises and the left front ate the proverbial humble pie in the polls , securing only 16 seats and conceding 36 to BJP and 8 to its regional ally , the IPFT. But BJP’s anocracy and action programme based on the 'grammar of anarchy' may lead the party to a pit  in the assembly  elections next year.