An effort to relocate a martyrs’ memorial column of the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war in Agartala in Tripura has attracted ire from civil societies including a body from Bangladesh comprising of former liberation warriors, rights activists, and writers.
The martyrs’ column is set to be moved from the Post Office Chowmuhani to Albert Ekka Park, a few kilometres away on the outskirts of Agartala as part of the Smart City Project.
As part of the city development plan under the Smart City Project, the state government had earlier relocated a battle tank and an artillery gun from the same spot in November last year. Both were relics from the 1971 war.
The martyrs’ column was set up by then Congress-led state government in 1972 with respect to fallen soldiers of the Indian Army in the Indo-Pak War and heroes of the liberation war. The Indian Army has been paying tributes to the martyrs at the column every year on Republic Day and Independence Day.
Albert Ekka Park was inaugurated in 2018 as a tribute to late Lance Naik Albert Ekka of the Indian Army’s 14 Guard’s Regiment who made the supreme sacrifice fighting Pakistani forces at Gangasagar railway station in former East Pakistan (currently Bangladesh), opposite to the Indo-Bangla border at Akhaura, less than a kilometre from Agartala city.
According to the state government, the move was made following consultations with the Indian Army and the Sainik board.
While no new clarification was available from authorities about the relocation Wednesday, sources said it was part of the same plan that shifted the tank and artillery gun. In 2020, when these relics were relocated, then Smart City Project Chief CEO Sailesh Kumar Yadav had said, “The Army & Sainik Board raised this issue in front of Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb when he came to power in 2018. The project was taken up under Smart City Mission after open tender at a cost of Rs 4.83 Crore.”
A circular island on which the war relics and the martyr’s column at Post Office Chowmuhani stood is 28 meters in diameter. The Smart City project planned to reduce its diameter to 18 meters and rebuild it with the theme of ‘Tree of Life.’ However, the move is faced with severe criticism from different civil society bodies including a citizen forum of Bangladesh who have demanded that the martyrs’ column be restored to its original place.
“We feel sad at the relocation of the war memorial which stood testimony to the history of these two countries, forged in blood. We request the Indian authorities to restore the memorial column in its place and preserve the symbolical memorials of both countries,” the forum said in a statement.
Professor Mihir Deb of Tripura, who was a member of a movement for setting up the demolished martyr’s column, told indianexpress.com that pulling down the memorial was a very unfortunate incident. “A proud memorial can’t be pulled down with any excuse. If a war memorial park is being set up outside central Agartala, a second column could have been raised there. Having a martyr’s column here carries a lot of history. Albert Ekka Park is a commendable work too. But the war memorial should not have been pulled down,” he said.
Similarly, Bibhu Bhattacharya, secretary of the Tripura Sanskriti Samanway Kendra, said dialogue could have been initiated with the people of the city before pulling it down. The Kendra is a forum of artists, writers, and cultural workers. “We vehemently protest this destructive act and demand the immediate return of the column at its former place. We hope the government will play a positive role in fulfilling this demand and do penance for destroying history,” he said.
The move sparked reactions on the political front too.
Tripura Left Front convener Bijan Dhar said, “We protest against the move of removing this memorial. It is a part of our historical sentiment. It was removed without holding any discussion with any political party.”
State Congress vice president Tapas De said, “Tripura had a role in the Bangladesh Liberation War. Removal of the memorial is an insult towards the memories of people of both the countries and to the martyrs.”
However, BJP spokesman Nabendu Bhattacharjee said the Albert Ekka Memorial Park has a large space where all the war memorials could be protected and preserved in a proper way. He also said the move to relocate the column was an effort to better respect the Indo-Bangla history, not tarnish it.
Tripura had played a pivotal role in the Bangladesh liberation war. Apart from having been the logistic and training hub of liberation warriors of ‘muktijoddhas’, the state also sheltered nearly 15 lakh East Pakistani refugees fleeing the torment of Pak forces when its own population was 16 lakhs. Agartala was the closest Indian state capital to the Indo-Pak border at the time. To turn the tide of a losing war, the Pak Army had planned a surprise attack on Agartala, barely days before they surrendered to General Jagjit Singh Arora on December 16, 1971. The battle of Hilli on the Eastern frontier has gone down in history as the most crucial battle in the 1971 Indo-Pak War.