[ Editor’s Note : The author of this post is an entrepreneur from the state of Tripura. His identity has been withheld upon his request ]
If you ask anyone in ‘Mainland’ India about Tripura, most people would have to test their knowledge of geography. Tripura is just another small state in the North-eastern part of the country. With this information of its geographical location also come many more stereotypes that are imbibed in the minds of the people who hardly know about the region.
As the great plains of the Ganges end, starts the more hilly terrains of the northeast India. Historically, Northeast India had great cultural and people to people contact with then Bengal and Burma. Ethnically the indigenous people are of Mongolian origin and there is preponderance of of Tibeto-Burman languages. The indigenous people who are now classified into various Scheduled Tribes, for hundreds of years have stayed in the hills. The partition of 1947 had a decisive impact on the demography of the state. Due to huge influx of Bengali population during the partition, the aboriginal people became minority in the state. Bengali language was the de-facto official language of the state. Among the 8 north eastern, Tripura became the only state where the aboriginal people became the minority (roughly 30% of the population) and many political commentators and political ‘activists’ still call Tripura a failed state.
The beginning of Turbulence:
The partition of India landed Tripura with a very disadvantageous situation. Tripura was the furthest of the Northeast states from the mainland India. The nearest port (Kolkata/ Haldia) some 1600 KM away and no railway connection meant economic development was at snail’s place. Natural resources were limited and a large ‘refugee population’, who came from Bangladesh leaving all their belonging behind meant that the rate of capital formation was very slow. With that add a perennial neglect of the Central Govt; times were difficult. As the per capita resource was limited and political management far from desired, the people at the lowest economic strata had very limited economic means to survive. As the Bengalees were in majority, the political spectrum was dominated by the Bengali leaders. The tribal people, most of whom resided in the hills were often neglected. The cultural identity of the Tribals was dominated by the majority Bengali population. A sense of detachment was high among the Tribal people. The Bangladesh war of Liberation in 1971 meant that the stability of the region was far from desired.
The constant neglect of the Tribal people meant a discontent was growing among them. Different political parties fomented this discontent for their own political benefit. The main two parties, Congress & CPI(M) both tacitly supported discontented groups. It is also alleged that the Baptist church, which has tremendous influence in the hills, was also responsible for stirring up the extremists. Tripura Upajati Yuba Samiti (TUJS) was founded in the year 1967 as a political outfit which could represent the Tribals. A larger political movement by them ensured that Tripura Tribal Area Autonomous District Council (TTAADC popularly known as ADC) Bill was passed in 1979. Even though there was some development in terms of giving rights to the tribals, TUJS leader Mr. Bijoy Kr. Hrankhal went underground and formed a militant group titled Tripura National Volunteers (TNV) in 1978. TNV started killing innocent bengalees. In the first week of June (1980) TUJS called a market strike. In this period, 6th to 9th June there was a historical mass killing of bengalees by TNV and TUGMP (Tripura Upajati Gana Mukti Parisada). This sparked off what is known as the “80’s Riot” (Ashir Danga ) in the local parlance.
Many more incidents took place after this incident. The state & the central govt. both fast tracked the peace process. On 12th August 1988, in New Delhi – Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and TNV leader Bijoy Kumar Hrankhawal had signed a pact of understanding. As a result of it, on the 10th September 1988, about 800 volunteers of TNV surrendered it’s weapons at Govindabari , North Tripura.
The Left Front came to power for the third time in 1993 under the first tribal chief minister of Tripura, Mr. Dasharath Deb. This third term was welcomed by a wave of violence all across the state. Mass murders were a daily affair. It is alleged that the opposition congress had a role in supporting the armed groups. Not to forget the role of ISI, which found support from a few Bangladeshi fundamentalist groups. The left front returned to power amidst a continuous bloodshed in the year 1998 under a young Chief Minister, Sri. Manik Sarkar.
Reconstruction & the politics of development:
The challenges were many and the economic resources were limited. Most of the people were dependent on agriculture for their livelihood and were extremely poor. Level of education was well below the national average. Road connectivity was pathetic. The whole state had only 45 KMs of railway line. With a young population getting more violent by the day, the Govt. had its task cut out. The govt. started tackling the challenges by bringing in more security forces as well as by taking development to the people. Roads were built, self employment opportunities were increased, autonomy in the tribal areas meant that the tribal people can now take their own decisions. Corruption was reduced. Manik Sarkar’s personal integrity was never questioned (he is often features in national newspapers as India’s poorest Chief Minister). By the end of his first term, the incidents of violence in reduced significantly. Manik Sarkar got re-elected in 2003.
In 2004, the Congress led UPA 1 came to power with external support from the left front in the centre. This helped the state govt. to get support in its developmental endeavors. Medical colleges were built, NIT’s were sanctioned, the education system got a boost in the form of Central University, Gas based mega power projects has been sanctioned, many more KM’s roads were build to improve the last mile connectivity. Tripura saw a flurry of developmental projects during this period.
The situation today:
Tripura today is work in progress. Nation building is no way a one day job. However, the good work of the last decade is visible today. There is peace all over the state. There has been no incident of terrorism since 2008. The HDI had improved. The literacy rate in now the third highest in the country (after Kerala & Mizoram). Agricultural productivity has improved. Plantations of Cash crops like Rubber have changed the economy of the rural sector for good. Good road connectivity means farmer can now take their produce to the markets much easier and faster. Young children now go to school in more numbers than ever. The perils of power cuts is now almost over and the railway connectivity has improved. There is a college in every sub-division. Bridges have shortened the distances by connecting disjointed localities.
Election 2013 – Issues:
Though Tripura is not Gujarat, but thankfully the elections of 2013 are being fought on development issues or the lack of it. The left front promises to continue the good work if voted to for the 5th straight time. The main opponent congress on the other hand promises ‘Parivartan’ (‘Change’, the same slogan based on which the Trinamool Congress came to power in West Bengal two years ago.) BJP is almost nonexistent. Trinamool Congress has decided not to fight the election this year. The only other potent political opponent of the Left Front is former TNV chief and chief of the INPT (Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra) party, Bijoy Kr. Hrankhal. However, an ageing Hrankhal is a shadow of his fiery past. He would do good to retain his and his party’s only seat from Ambassa Constituency.
Times have changed so has people. The new generation, both the Bengalees & the Tribals, abhor violence. Considerable economic growth and development has meant that people now dream and demand for better lives for them and their children. Divisive & narrow politics is losing its steam. But the divisive forces still exist. But their strength is nothing near to the strength the enjoyed during their heydays.
What is going to be the election results? Even though I am not a political astrologer, but the result is a foregone conclusion. Left front would win because of the TINA factor. The only matter of interest is the no. of seats. Congress looks tired because of infightings even 2 weeks before election. Left front on the other hand looks formidable like a well organised and well oiled machine. The image of Manik Sarkar, the incumbent CM is also a big plus. His personal integrity is unquestionable. He is not ideologically intolerant like Prakash Karat and Jyoti Basu. He is more a development oriented man & widely believed to be pro-industry. However, the same can’t be said about all his ministers. Moreover, the lower bureaucracy still remains lacklustre. On one hand there is shortage of un/skilled labour, on the other hand the unemployment rate among the educated young remain extremely high. Lack of employment opportunities in the private sector means the youth are still dependent of Govt. jobs. People living in the hilly interiors are even today devoid of basic amenities like drinking water, roads etc.
Tripura, much like our nation, stands at a cross roads today. The left front which is expected to return to power, needs to deliver again for the next five years. Things have improved from what it was a decade back, but then the rate of development must be faster. The broad gage railway track, which is going to connect the state with the rest of the country is expected by 2015-16 has the potential to change the economy. The transit access to Chittagong port via Bangladesh might also be a game changer. The last mile connectivity has to be improved. More & more industry must come in. The emphasis should be on self-help group (SHG) & entrepreneurship. Agriculture productivity needs to be improved both in food & non-food plantation sector. It is not than none of them are happening now, but the rate at which it is happening must be increased.
There is no greater cause than nation building. Each one of us must contribute in laying every brick very carefully so that our future generations can live in a better country. From one mud road of 107 KMs which connected Agartala in 1947, Tripura was presently awarded with the best road infrastructure in north-east India recently. Tripura has indeed come a long way. But we live in changing times and the aspirations of the youth changes fast. They must be provided the opportunity and live their dreams, else the youth would be lost to other lesser causes. Nation building is not an easy job and only a well intended visionary leadership can take us to the right path. We expect the next govt. to do exactly the same.