People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 17

April 25, 2010



               A Long History of Struggle


               Rahul Sinha


THE people of Tripura are soon to vote for the Tripura Tribal Area Autonomous District Council (TTAADC; henceforth ADC), with its sixth general election scheduled to be held on May 3. Around 6.36 lakh voters in the ADC area, spread over two thirds of the state, will on the day elect 28 members of the ADC that was formed under the sixth schedule of Indian constitution.

As the campaign picks up, leaders of the Left Front are repeatedly warning their cadre not to be self-complacent. Why? To seek an answer, we have to go into the history of the ADC and the role played by the Congress party and tribal chauvinist parties like TUJS in the past.




Historically, the tribal dominated hilly areas of Tripura have been a stronghold of the Communist Party. Since the late 1940s, movements of the Janasiksha Samiti and Gana Mukti Parishad (popularly known as GMP), led by stalwarts like Comrades Dasharath Deb, Sudhanwa Debbarma and Hemanta Debbarma, made the Communist Party the biggest force in tribal areas. The Congress could never gain a foothold among the tribal people because of its sheer anti-tribal attitude. True to its class character, it was dominated by the royal family, moneylenders and other affluent sections of the society.

After the partition, Tripura had from the neighbouring East Pakistan a huge influx of the Bengali migrants who took shelter in the state because of the communal riots. This eventually resulted in a total change in the state�s demography, whereby the tribals were reduced to a minority. Leaders of the Communist Party well understood the far reaching implications of this change and continuously stressed the need to build up strong unity of the poor, cutting across ethnic identities. Initially, the Congress tried hard to mislead the Bengali community that the Communist Party was a party of the tribals alone and, if voted to power, it would push the Bengalis back into East Pakistan. However, a large section of the Bengali masses gradually saw through this communal ploy of the Congress. Through their movements for education, employment, infrastructure, land reforms and against the oppressions of levy, the Left forces gained a support base among the youth, students and peasants in the Bengali dominated areas.

Fearing total washout from the political landscape of the state, Congress leaders then decided to use divisive tactics to loosen the grip of the Left among the tribal masses. As a result, the Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti (TUJS) was formed in 1967, at the behest of Congress and with the aid of the erstwhile royal family. Claiming to be a purely tribal party, the TUJS spearheaded the sectarian politics of tribal chauvinism and tribal identity which served the Congress party�s purpose to divide the poor in the name of ethnicity and weaken the class unity of the poor tribal and non-tribal masses. This divisive role of the TUJS became clear in the mid-1970s when it backtracked from a four point charter of demands that included formation of ADC as a constitutional safeguard for the minority tribal masses, recognition of Kok Borok (the language of most of the tribal people) and restoration of the illegally transferred tribal lands in violation of the Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act. The TUJS declined to join this movement, led by the CPI(M) and GMP, on the ground that the Bengalis should be kept away from the movement. On March 3, 1975, during this movement, Comrade Dhananjoy Tripura, a leading GMP worker of Jolaibari area in South Tripura district, attained martyrdom, braving the bullets of the Congress government, the TUJS remained a silent spectator. The Congress apprehension about the movement was natural: restoration of such lands to the tribals would mean an end to the hegemony of rural affluent classes who were its main support base. One can well understand that the TUJS decision to betray the movement was dictated by the Congress leadership.




These waves of mass movements ultimately resulted in the formation of the first Left Front government in December 1977. The LF won 56 out of the 60 assembly seats while Congress failed to open its account. Going by its electoral manifesto, the Left Front government extended recognition to Kok Borok as the second state language on January 19, 1979. It also started the process of formation of ADC under the seventh schedule within its constitutional power. At the same time, steps for restoration of lands to the tribals were also initiated.

But the Congress tried every possible conspiracy to prevent the formation of ADC. Under its instigations, the TUJS held a conference at Taidu in Amarpur subdivision in March 1980, where Congress leader Bibhu Devi, a member of the royal family, instigated them to take a pledge to push back the �foreigners� (Bengalis). The TUJS called for a boycott of the markets.

At the same time, the Congress extended its backing to the Amra Bangali, a Bengali chauvinist group formed by the Ananda Marg. It spread all kinds of communal rumours, like the ADC will divide Tripura into two nations like India and Pakistan, Bengali masses will be treated as second class citizens, etc. These attempts to vitiate the atmosphere ultimately culminated in the infamous ethnic riots of June 1980. The anti-Left newspapers in the state also contributed to inciting the ethnic tensions. However, under the leadership of late Comrade Nripen Chakraborty, the Left Front government tackled the situation effectively and was able to honour its promise of creating the ADC in two thirds area of the state. It also fulfilled the promise of restoration of tribal lands. The poor Bengali sections affected by this move were also adequately helped and compensated by the government.

The divisive tactics of the Congress continued. It boycotted the first general election of the ADC. The then PCC president Ashok Bhattacharya went on record promising to dismantle ADC if he was elected an MP. However, under tremendous pressure of the democratic, peace loving people of the state and constant persuasion of the state government, the union government ultimately bowed down and accorded the sixth schedule status to the ADC by amending the constitution.



DAYS OF 1988-93

More conspiracies were yet to come. After an unsuccessful attempt to plunge the state into anarchy through communal riots in 1980, a section of the TUJS under the leadership of Bijay Hrankhwal went underground and formed an extremist group named Tripura National Volunteers. The TNV made its bases in the Mayani reserve forest of the Chittagong hill tracts of Bangladesh. In the name of an armed struggle for �Independent Tripura,� it assassinated many CPI(M) leaders and workers irrespective of their ethnic identity. These TNV activities were no isolated cases of terrorism but an integral part of the CIA-backed  infamous Operation Bramhaputra to create instability and unrest in the north eastern region and to separate it from India to suit the interests of US imperialism.

Before the assembly elections in 1988, the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi made a secret pact with Hrankhwal, with Mizoram Congress leader Lalthan Hawla, Santosh Mohan Deb and Tripura PCC president Sudhir Majumdar acting as mediators. Acting as per this pact, the TNV assassinated 93 innocent non-tribal people, including women and children, just 10 days before the elections. As per the pre-planned drama, Rajiv Gandhi alleged in a rally in Agartala that TNV was the CPI(M)�s brainchild, and pushed the army into the state. Union cabinet ministers then captured the whole state machinery. The army took part in compelling or persuading the voters to vote for the Congress party. Even after all these tactics, the results showed the Left Front inching back to power. Led by Santosh Mohan Deb, a central minister, Congress goons then captured the counting centre at Agartala and rigged the process of counting to get the Congress-TUJS combine declared victorious. Hrankhwal later took part in a stage-managed surrender ceremony, leaving most of his cadres in Bangladesh, and was rewarded with the post of chairman of Tripura Rehabilitation Plantation Corporation.

During the next five years of jungle raj under the Congress-TUJS combine, the state witnessed an unprecedented semi-fascist terror. About 350 CPI(M) leaders and workers were brutally murdered, and innumerable attacks on party offices, rapes and gang rapes took place. All elected local bodies were illegally dismissed and elections never took place in the next five years. Parliament elections and assembly byelections held during the period were totally rigged. ADC was also targeted. Since it could not be abolished, funds were abysmally reduced, officers were shifted from the ADC service and finally, in 1990, the ADC elections were also rigged to instal the Congress-TUJS combine. Development of Kok Borok was stalled on a baseless fuss over the script to be used. Development funds were looted. The tribal people returned to their plight in the pre-Left Front era, with hunger, malnutrition and utter poverty looming large in tribal areas. Starvation deaths and sale of children for a few kg of rice again made headlines. At Damcherra under Kanchanpur subdivision, starving tribal people gheraoed the godown demanding foodgrains. The acting chief minister, Nagendra Jamatia of TUJS, turned a deaf ear to their plea. Security forces greeted the tribals with bullets and bayonets, leading to the death of Chimte Halam, an expecting mother.

In 1993, however, the people defied all threats and marched to the polling booths to cast their votes. The results gave the Left Front a 49-11 majority. Democracy was then re-established in ADC too, in 1995. With this started the process of rebuilding Tripura on the ashes of devastation and mindless plunder during the Congress-TUJS regime.




Soon after the polls, however, the TNV extremists who had chosen to stay back in the camps in Bangladesh, renewed their offensive; now they formed two groups, namely ATTF and NLFT. The bloodbath in tribal and mixed populated areas again started making headlines. They again made attempts to create an atmosphere of mistrust and disbelief between the tribal and non-tribal masses in order to weaken the Left Front. For, the tribal non-tribal unity remains the pivotal factor in the political and organisational strength of the Left Front. In the ADC elections of 2000, extremists openly issued dictates to the people to vote only for IPFT, the renamed version of TUJS. Several Left Front candidates or their kin were kidnapped. The Congress chose to abstain from the election, giving the extremists and their political wing a free hand. The central government, too, did not send adequate security forces, despite the demand. Thus the ADC, a constitutional body, was hijacked at gunpoint.

Under IPFT, ADC became a perfect example of extremists calling the shots in the matters of administration and looting all the funds of development. ADC headquarters at Khumulwung turned into their den. All developmental works in ADC area came to a standstill with funds being plundered. Schools, hospitals, construction works, everything halted. Teachers, doctors, engineers and ordinary people were kidnapped for ransom. Whoever dared to raise a voice of protest was murdered. In 2001, two Block Advisory Committee chairmen of Jampuijala block, Comrades Sampad Singh Kalai and Uday Debbarma, were murdered within a span of three months as they refused to hand over the developmental funds to the extremists. For voicing her protest and daring to work for educating the children, a brave lady of Gandachhera, Comrade Satirung Reang was ridden with bullets. The infightings in the IPFT for larger share of the plundering led to a change of chief executive member five times in five years. In the last days of the IPFT�s tenure in ADC, a faction broke away from it protesting against corruption, and formed the NSPT. The Left Front initially supported them but they too plunged into corruption. The party was divided. The pro-extremist portion joined the IPFT which was now rechristened as INPT. Eventually the Left Front withdrew its support and fresh elections were held in 2005.

The state government strengthened the security forces, focused on speedy development of tribal areas and the Left Front launched a massive political ideological campaign against extremism. All these greatly weakened the extremists. In such a situation, the polls were by and large peaceful. The Left Front and the NSPT faction staying with the Left won all the 28 seats, marking the beginning of a new era.




From 2005 onwards, the people of ADC area are witnessing development in an atmosphere of peace and harmony. Every now and then, disillusioned extremists are surrendering. The LF government extends them rehabilitation, job oriented training, loans and other to start a new life. It has decentralised the powers to the grassroots level with elected village committees looking after development works. Now schools are reaching out to the students. Roads and power have reached most of the habitats; work is on to supply pipelined drinking water. Hunger and starvation deaths seem to be a nightmare of the past. Rural growth centres are bridging the infrastructural gap between the hills and the plains. With the help of the state government, the ADC is working for an all round development of its people. Departments like school education and social welfare were with the ADC from the beginning. Now irrigation, agriculture, animal husbandry and fisheries have also been transferred to it. Steps are on to preserve and enrich the cultural heritage of all the 19 tribes of the states. The state is the pioneer in giving forest rights to more than 1,13,000 tribals. Efforts are on to make them economically self-sufficient.

It is in this context that people of the ADC area will cast their vote on May 3. The Left Front is clearly ahead of others. Though the Congress and INPT have fielded separate candidates, they may have a clandestine understanding. This will become clear as the date of poll approaches. According to political observers, the weakening of the extremists has made Congress reluctant to form an alliance with the INPT. This can at the same time be a sly tactic of the Congress to wash its hands from the allegation of its association with the political fa�ade of the extremists. A portion of INPT has broken away and is contesting in the name of IPFT, raising the slogan of a separate state. Thus a big victory of the Left Front will be a clear verdict for continuation of the process of all round development of the state in an atmosphere of peace. At the same time it will be a decisive rebuff to all the Congress, INPT and IPFT who opposed the very formation of ADC, betrayed the tribal people and are conspiring to divide the state in the name of tribal identity. As the toiling masses of the country are getting up against the anti-people, neo-liberal policies of the Congress-led UPA government, huge LF victory in these elections will be a fitting rebuff to the Congress and would certainly encourage the Left and democratic forces all over the country.