At least 20 people were injured and 15 vehicles torched in Agartala in ethnic clashes between tribals and Bengalis Tuesday, even as voting was under way for by-election to the Simna-Tamakari seat, the state’s lone tribal autonomous body.
Tension between the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) and the Left Front had been building in the state for some time, with the IPFT fast becoming a force to reckon with. Police officials said the political tension led to Tuesday’s ethnic clashes in Agartala.
The ruling CPM blamed the BJP for participating in the clashes along with the IPFT.
At the heart of the clashes was a massive rally organised by the IPFT at Astabal Maidan in Agartala, where party chief N C Debbarma made it clear that they would “stick to the demand for separate land for indigenous people”.
Earlier, a police report had indicated that IPFT workers planned to enter Agartala from Tripura West district on the road through Simna-Tamakari. “By morning, police officers were sent to the constituency and IPFT supporters were told that they couldn’t pass through the constituency with political flags, as it might have influenced voters. Instead they were redirected to a different, longer route through the hills,” said a senior police officer.
Later, the Agartala rally allegedly saw a woman trying to cut through the lines at the venue while passing through the area with her child, said police. They added that the “woman and the boy were beaten up”, which provided the trigger for the violence. Police officials added that at the Congress Bhavan, two Bengali boys were beaten up, allegedly by IPFT’s tribal supporters, while in a third incident, passengers on a scooter were dragged off and the scooter burnt at the Surya Chowmuhani in the city.
“By this time, Left workers in the city had also started retaliating and there were clashes across Agartala. In one incident, IPFT supporters, who had parked their vehicles near the Central Jail, clashed with the police posted there and two police vans were burnt,” said the police officer.
The Left alleged that the incident was “planned” — to increase tension between tribals and Bengalis in Agartala for electoral benefit.
“Today, there was a by-election in an Assembly where the main opposition for the Left was the IPFT. The IPFT was openly supported by the TMC, and the BJP also withdrew their candidate in order to support them against us. This is a party which openly supports separatism and today, once again, they took out a rally to raise the issue of a separate state for the indigenous population,” alleged CPM spokesperson Gautam Das.
“However, their main intention was to increase tension in Agartala where the Bengali population is about 96 per cent. In an initial incident, an aged woman was attacked and there were subsequent clashes. We demand legal action against the IPFT and also the BJP, which also participated in the clashes,” Das added.
A huge contingent of the Tripura State Rifles and the police was deployed in the capital city and curfew imposed to prevent further clashes.