Excerpt: Northeast India; A Political History by Samrat Choudhury

BySamrat Choudhury
Aug 03, 2023 10:52 PM IST

This extract from a book on the varied cultural, religious, social and political histories of the states of the northeast looks at how Partition changed Tripura

In 1948, when a section of the Communist Party of India decided to embark on the path of armed revolution to capture power, this organisation morphed into the Gana Mukti Parishad (People’s Liberation Council), an underground Communist outfit that undertook armed action against the royalist administration to establish “liberated zones”. The GMP filled a political void left by the ban of a more moderate political organisation with Jana Siksha Samiti links, the Tripura Rajya Praja Mandal, established in 1946 under the leadership of Jogesh Chandra Debbarma and Birchandra Debbarma. This group had called for the introduction of popular elected government in Tripura. By then, independence for India was a certainty.

Neer Mahal, once the summer palace of the king of Tripura. (Shutterstock) PREMIUM
Neer Mahal, once the summer palace of the king of Tripura. (Shutterstock)

The question that remained was whether Pakistan would be created — and until the start of July 1946, the answer was that it would not. That month, Jawaharlal Nehru took over from Maulana Abul Kalam Azad as the Congress president, and immediately proceeded to make statements at a press conference in Bombay negating plans to prevent partition under the terms of the Cabinet Mission Plan that Jinnah and the Muslim League, as well as the Congress itself, apart from the British government, had all agreed to. Jinnah saw this as a betrayal and responded by calling for the marking of 16 August 1946 as “Direct Action Day”. While this was meant to be a day of public protests and shutdowns, in Calcutta it rapidly turned into a massive communal riot, as the Muslim League, with the blessing of the premier, Husayn Shaheed Suhrawardy, tried to enforce a shutdown of the city, which the Congress and Hindu Mahasabha tried to prevent. At least 4,000 people were killed in the rioting, and no less than 40,000 were injured.

385pp, ₹699; HarperCollins
385pp, ₹699; HarperCollins

Gandhi in Noakhali during the Partition riots in 1947. (HT Photo)
Gandhi in Noakhali during the Partition riots in 1947. (HT Photo)

I have the honour to state that on consideration of all the facts and circumstances relating to the new constitution for India as embodied in the Government of India Act, 1935, I have come to the conclusion that Tripura State may accede to the proposed Federation of India, subject, however, to the safeguards and limitations indicated in this letter and its annexures.

The Governor General’s office had sent him, and rulers of other princely states, a standard template of the Instrument of Accession. The Maharaja sent back a “revised draft of the standard form of the Instrument of Accession”. Among amendments in his revised draft, Point 8 begins: “Nothing in this instrument affects the continuance of my sovereignty in and over this State.” Point 9 states: “Nothing in this Instrument shall be construed as authorising Parliament to legislate for or exercise jurisdiction over this State or its Ruler in any respect.” The Maharaja proposed to accept the Instrument under certain other limitations, of which he provided a long list as an annexure. After his sudden death, his wife, Kanchan Prava Devi, princess of Panna in Central India, took charge of the administration. She signed an Instrument of Accession on 13 August 1947 that accepted the power of the dominion legislature to make laws relating to only three areas: defence, external affairs and communication. The document she signed also reiterated the point on sovereignty that the Maharaja had earlier insisted on, saying, “Nothing in this Instrument affects the continuance of my sovereignty in and over this land.”

Tribal vegetable vendors at a market in Agartala, Tripura. (Manjit Kumar Sarma / Shutterstock)
Tribal vegetable vendors at a market in Agartala, Tripura. (Manjit Kumar Sarma / Shutterstock)

This sent a wave of mainly Hindu refugees into the state which had already seen a population explosion in the preceding decades. Tripura’s first census was in 1872. The Census of 1931 found that the population had increased a staggering eleven-fold from the 1872 figure. “In Tripura State and the Chittagong Hill Tracts the increase was more than 10 per cent in each decade, a rate not achieved in any other district of Bengal except Noakhali between 1911–21”, the census report said. In the preceding decade, however, this rate had been achieved by a dozen districts, a classification that included, apart from Tripura, the princely state of Sikkim. The increase of population between 1921 and 1931 in Tripura state was 25.6 per cent. In absolute numbers, the population had gone up from 173,325 in 1901 — the first census when enumerators were able to go to remote and far-flung areas — to 382,450 in 1931. The census commissioner, AE Porter, noted in his report that “The increase in the state… appears to be due actually less to immigration than to increase of the native-born population and possibly also to increased accuracy of the enumeration on the present occasion.”

The Tripura population in 1951 was 639,029. In the next decade up to 1961 the state’s population again shot up by a staggering 78 per cent. The reason was distress migration from East Pakistan, where the Hindus who had stayed back earlier faced increasing discrimination and violence. There had been those, including the Bengali Dalits led by Jogendranath Mandal, who had chosen Pakistan in 1947. Mandal, who was the first law minister of Pakistan, was forced to flee to India after raising his voice against horrific riots that broke out in Dhaka and other parts of East Bengal in 1950, in which the police and government machinery were, according to him, complicit. Thousands of men, women and children, most of them Hindu, were massacred, and the community’s leaders, including elected members of the Legislative Assembly, were arrested. “I would like to reiterate in this connection my firm conviction that the East Bengal Government is still following the well-planned policy of squeezing Hindus out of the province”, Mandal wrote in his resignation letter.

Author Samrat Choudhury (Courtesy the publisher)
Author Samrat Choudhury (Courtesy the publisher)

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