Intro: Marxist-Communists who have been trapped by their own stories is a sad commentary on insurgency in Tripura.
Tripura, being one of the North- Eastern states of Bharat has been suffering from the problems pertaining to ethnicity and insurgency for a long time. Basically there are two main political formations which are responsible for this i.e., the CPI (M) as well as the Congress. Besides these two there are other factors such as transmission of violent sectarianism from Bangladesh, activities of Christian missionaries, parochial narrow tendencies on the part of certain ethnic groups etc. But the “powerism” of CPI (M) and of Congress was underscored by them because the resultant zero-sum game between these two political parties causes incalculable damage to the homogeneity and harmony in Tripura.
Ethnicity and insurgency in Tripura are not natural or trans-historical, they are situational, shaped by social, economic and political processes. In fact the changes in the demographic profile of Tripura, due to the constant influx of Bengalis have added to the sufferings of the poor tribes.
The arrival of Bengalis on a massive scale in Tripura particularly from the eastern part of Bengal has in short caused marginalisation of the tribal people there. And any party or institution which engages itself in provocative activities with a view to generating anti-Bengali hatred amongst tribals sows the seeds of insurgency in Tripura.According to Subir Bhaumik a BBC Correspondent, the resultant challenge to the law and order scenario has converted Tripura into a “ Red rag to those who seek to protect the rights of indigenous peoples in India's troubled North -East”. He has further rightly stated that Tripura has become the bogey-boy for other states in that region.
I would like to begin this analysis first by elaborating different phases of the ethnic movements in Tripura. Fortunately for us, Biswajit Ghosh has already identified five phases in this connection.
It was in the decade of 1960s that the tribal lands were transferred to non-tribals on a large scale. And in protest there emerged in Tripura two organisations to ventilate grievances of alienated tribals; first one was the Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti, born on June 10, 1967 and the second one was the Sengrak (Clenched Fist), the organisation of the Hill People born on November 11 in 1967. The TUJS was political organisation, deeply interested in reviving the traditional cultural symbols and practices of the tribes and in opposing the Bengali cultural tradition! The ‘Sengrak’ declared its links with the outlawed Mizo National Front and launched violent anti-Bengali activities with a view to forcing all non tribals to quite Tripura.
The second phase was marked by the violent ethnic clashes and bloody communal riots engineered by the rebel outfits like TNV (Tripura National Volunteer) and Aamra Bengali.
The third phase which witnessed the surrender of TNV in 1988 simultaneously saw the formation of rebel outfit like NLFT (National Liberation Front of Tripura) and ATTF (All Tripura Tiger Force). The bloody clashes among the tribals themselves on political lines resulted in the massacre of innocent people.
During the fourth phase which started its course in the middle of 1993, the Left Front government appealed to rebels to surrender and to join the mainstream. Around 4,000 tribal insurgents accordingly did surrender but there emerged other outfits interested in keeping the flame of insurgency alive.
The fifth phase of tribal movement in Tripura, unfolded itself in the last decade of the last century and was dominated by the anti-Left alliance between the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and the Indigenous People Front of Tripura (lPFT) such an alliance however failed in consolidating tribal unity and the resurfacing of political and cultural divisions of tribals continued to keep the cauldron of unrest boiling.
It is essential to elaborate at this juncture the commonalities as well as contrasts between our viewpoint and that on the part of Biswajit Ghosh in connection with the problem of ethnicity and insurgency in Tripura. As for the commonalities both analyses share the view that political rivalries of mainstream parties have manipulated, mobilised and sustained ethno nationalism in Tripura. Both analyses also share the comment that foreign or outside agents have widened the gap between tribals and non-tribals that the support from Christian missionaries as well as that from Islamic fundamentalists have made the problem of insurgency uncontrollable is the least debatable observation.
I however beg to differ with Biswajit Ghosh when he glosses over the Communist activities in Tripura in the immediate post independence years; as according to us such activities sowed the seeds of insurgency in Tripura. I also intend to add a Post Script to the elaboration of the fifth phase, because even today Tripura witnesses signs of insurgency and therefore I am constrained to point out that it is risky for the Manik Sarkar—Government to be complacent.
It is essential to hint at the role played by Congress (I) in aggravating insurgency in the decade of 1960s. As the Congress leaders had realised in 1960s that exclusive reliance on non tribals in general and on Bengali citizens in particular would not enable them to grab power, they turned their attention to build alliance with the newly emerged TUJS. Such opportunism did prove beneficial to the Congress, but it facilitated the growth of the tree of insurgency whose seed had been sown by the Marxists-Communists in the late 1940s.
Leaders of the Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti (TUJS) were in fact interested in doing justice to the tribal people. That was why they raised demands such as restoration of tribal lands to the original owners, recognition of Kok Borok language, etc. That way their viewpoints were quite similar to those of the CPI (M) leaders. They however felt that the base of their operations was the hilly area which was under the domination of the CPI (M). It was therefore essential for them to out-radicalise the Marxists-Communists with a view to overtaking the latter. Initially TUJS leaders did pose themselves as protagonists of independent path; independent from Congress as well as from CPI (M). Soon however they became allies of the Congress. Other separatist and violent tribal outfits such as TNV (the Tribal National Volunteers) and INPT (the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura) which showed in subsequent years extra ordinary zeal in out-radicalising Communists on emotive tribal issues also found accommodation in the tent of Congress. Astonishingly, the pro-Bengali organisation like the Swasti Samiti which organised land grabbing for nurturing Bengali refugee settlements also enjoyed shelter in the same tent of Congress. Politics in Tripura is indeed quite curious. If it informs us of the opportunism on the part of the Congress; it also mirrors tribal leaders’ concern for power at the cost of tribal development.
We can thus substantiate the viewpoint that the concern for power and politics has led tribal insurgents to throw tribal development into oblivion. Such a concern for power and the resultant apathy towards tribal welfare on the part of tribal insurgents prompted opportunist Congress leaders to be thick-skinned and insensitive. No wonder it was the Congress Government which sanctioned the Dumbur Hydro-electric Project as well as the Gumti Hydel Project and caused cruel displacement to thousands of tribal families.
We cannot afford to ignore the role played by Christian missionaries as well as that by Muslim fundamentalists in instigating ethno-nationalism in tribal areas. In substantiation of the role of Christian missionaries, one may refer to the assistance rendered by the Tripura Baptist Christian Union (TBCU) to the formation of TUJS. One may also allude to the Christian support (forceful backing) to the issues such as the use of Roman script for Kok Borok, exclusive worshipping of tribal gods and goddesses, wearing tribal dresses etc. Christian missionaries in fact asked tribal people to boycott Bengali script, Bengali saris and to cease visiting Hindu temples and traditional holy places. They moreover set up their schools as a result of which, government schools practically became defunct in hills. As per the report of the Dinesh Singh Committee it was the Mizo National Front, committed to Christianity which indulged in the violent activities in June 1980.
CPI (M)’s Role
This analysis of ethnicity and insurgency in Tripura will remain incomplete if we fail to elaborate the part played by Marxist-Communists in ethnicity and insurgency in Tripura. The initiative on the part of Marxist-Communist in shaping different socio-political organisations such as Jana Mongal Samiti (JMS), Jana Shikshan Samiti (JSS), Tripura Praja MandaI (TPM), etc. during 1940s deserves a special space in the chapter, because it sowed the seeds of ethnicity and insurgency in Tripura. We of course accept that the contribution made by JSS in spreading literacy among Tripura-tribals is undoubtedly appreciable. But motivation behind literacy campaign was to consolidate the roots of the Communist Party through the spread of ethnicity in the tribal areas of Tripura. TPM, that is, Tripura Praja MandaI was used by Communists as a political platform for fighting against two forces such as the feudal regime of kings and queens and the Bengalee bureaucracy as well
They were then imbued with Telangana-spirit and therefore they gave a call to Tripura-tribals to launch revolts against landlords, moneylenders, big Jotedars and other rich people. The period when the Communists implemented the Ranadive line of action was quite stressful for Tripura, as the King Bir Bikram had died in May 1947 and till October 1949 when the Regent Queen signed with Indian Government the instrument of Accession, Tripura was literally groping in dark due to ambiguity about the residence of political authority. It was in this period that the Tripura unit of the Communist Party of Bharat organised tribal groups such as Tripuris, Jamatias, Reangs, Chakmas, Halangs and so on, with a view not only to generating internal cohesion in tribal people, but also to differentiating them from non tribals. They thus tried to create among tribal people the awareness of crucial distinctiveness and belongingness.
The new politics of identity built by the Communists of Tripura was based on ethnicity and it had two supportive ideological pillars. One, the presentation of Manikyan rulers as anti-Tripura and two; the portrayal of Bengali Hindus as outsiders. Jana Shiksha Samiti’s opposition to large scale settlement of Bengali Hindus from East Pakistan as well as to the new government in the aftermath of the death of Bir Bikram Manikya in 1947 was obviously reflective of the Communist sponsored politics of identity.
It is true that in 1951 the Communist Party of India did abandon the Ranadive line of action and accordingly did discontinue violet transactions. It did not however abandon the new politics of identity based on ethnicity. Tripura then observed skilled Communist implementation of typical tactics. The Communist Party of India, for example gave full freedom to its mass organizations like Tripura Praja MandaI (TPM), TripuraRajya Gana Mukti Parishad (TRGMP), Jana Shiksha Samiti (JSS) etc. to articulate anti-Bengali sentiments, with a view to wooing alienated tribal groups. Simultaneously, CPI posed itself as a party interested in developing harmonious relations between tribal and non-tribal communities. The outward posture on the part of the CPI obviously aimed at placing the communists in the good books of Bengali. Such a tactical move, of course, did pay handsome rewards to the CPI in the 1952 elections. Emergence and spread of ‘Sengrak’ a militant organisation in the years from 1949 to 1951 in the tribal areas of Tripura, no doubt caused a great headache to the Communists, because Sengrak outmaneuvered the CPI through the demands such as “oust Bengalis from Tripura” and “oppose the merger of Tripura into India”. One must, of course give Communists due credit for the energetic, speedy implementation of several pro-tribal policies, during their rule in Tripura in the late 1970s. The Communists however failed in demolishing tribal insurgency led by the Tribal National Volunteers (TNV) .
In subsequent years, the CPI (M) government did improve law and order scenario, but the insurgency problem has not yet been fully overcome. It was in the last week of May, this year (2015) that Chief Minister Manik Sarkar removed the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from Tripura. That the Manik Sarkar government could afford to do so because of its success in bringing Tripura out of the shadow of insurgency has been acknowledged by several commentators.
It was at the North East Chief Ministers Conference held at Guwahati on July 11, 2015 that Manik Sarkar ventilated his anxiety over the notable relics of insurgency in Tripura.
As for the apprehensive dimensions of the insurgency in Tripura, one must first refer to the fact that organisations like the TUJS and TNV gave a different shape to the Tripura identity politics in 1960s through their ideological investment in reinvention of colonial condition. These organisations thus began to glorify Manikyan rule and to present resettlements of Bengali Hindus from East Bengal as the project of the Indian State. The Left Government must therefore desist from making a claim that all development in Tripura have been shaped during its rule only.
Secondly, as the tribal movements in Tripura are basically agrarian, the Tripura government must give relief on the war-footing to the tribal citizens who still continue to suffer from land alienation due to construction of Dumbur Hydel Project as well as due to that of Gumti Hydel Project. It must also reconsider its rubber plantation policy.
Thirdly, the linkage between over ground political parties and underground rebel group is also equally apprehensible dimension. The linkage between the Congress and the TNV is well known to all, but the linkage between the CPI (M) and the all Tripura Tribal Force is relatively little known. Such a linkage facilitated in the last two decades of the previous century several militant tribal outfits which took pride in out-radicalising each other. In order that the history should not repeat itself, the above mentioned linkage must be severed without delay.
And lastly, an offshoot of the just mentioned linkage between a political party and an underground militant tribal organisation informs us of the politics of surrender on the part of the relevant underground organisation when its patron party occupies, the seat of power. It is needless to point out that the ruling patron party blesses its protege and legitimises extremist ethno-nationalism.
Dr Ashok Modak (The writer is Adjunct Professor, University of Mumbai)