For more than 10 days, since July 10, Tripura’s connection with the rest of the country was severely restricted with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) laying siege to the national highway and the state’s only rail head. The blockade led to a serious shortage of food, fuel and other essential commodities in the landlocked state.
On Thursday, the tribal outfit, which has been demanding a separate state, “Twipraland” for nearly eight years, called off the blockade after the Centre assured IPFT leaders that it will hold talks with them. Tripura’s essential commodities crisis might well be over. But there is no indication of an enduring solution to the discord. This does not bode well for the state which has a long history of tension between its tribal and non-tribal population.
The IPFT’s demand for a separate state is a product of the anxieties fanned by the history of migration that began in the late 19th century when the royal family of the hill state encouraged Bengali farming communities to settle there. By the early 20th century, indigenous tribal communities had been reduced to a little more than 50 per cent of Tripura’s population. Partition caused another upheaval in the state’s demography. It led to an influx of refugees from the then East Pakistan paving the way for an ethnic conflict which was exacerbated when the 1971 war for the creation of Bangladesh led to another round of migration into Tripura.
However, welfare schemes for the state’s indigenous people, attractive rehabilitation packages for former insurgents and regular elections to the Tripura Tribal Area Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) helped douse the fires of enmity between the state’s tribal and non-tribal peoples. Tripura withdrew the AFSPA in 2015 — Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded the state’s success in tackling insurgency.
But the unrest this month indicates that the political resolution to Tripura’s ethnic problem requires more work. The IPFT was a fringe player in the state’s politics till 2013, when it organised a highway and rail route blockade in Tripura. Last year, it mobilised more than 10,000 agitators to cut off the state’s road and rail links with the rest of the country for more than a day. The tribal outfit’s 10-day long agitation this month portends a return to the times when ethnic matters upstaged all other issues. The past 10 days should be a warning to the Centre and state governments that, in spite of the decade-long peace it has enjoyed, Tripura is still searching for a lasting solution to its ethnic problem. They must work together to bring it about.