As a student of politics, I have always tried to be dispassionate about 'Tring'. Here, for the first time, I want to be a passionate advocate. And I want to begin with a straight-forward argument Tring is an attempt to rethink the very idea of 'Tripura' by reclaiming a historicized event in the dim past. Those who claim that 'Tring' has no evidence in history do not understand history at all. History is many things. For example, besides being a discipline which engages in study of past events, history is also the way past is interpreted, reclaimed and imagined. In fact history is also made. For instance when Indian Cricketer Virendra Shehwag scored 219, we say he made history. Individuals and groups make history every day.
Remember the Agartala airport renaming controversy last year. There was so much history going on there. First, it was struggle for which historical figure to be commemorated. Which hero was important for 'Tripura'. We all took sides. Therefore, the struggle was intensely 'political' too. A historical hero is a political choice. We fight for it because these decisions affect our present situation. Allow me to elaborate.
In 1947, the dissolution of British-India and the disappearance of Manikya rule (not the dynasty though), brought into play three competing new ideas of Tripura. The Tripur Jatiyo Mukti Parishad claimed Tripura as a homeland of 'hill people'. Bengali-Muslims (who were second largest groups in Tripura then) viewed Tripura as part of the newly imagined Muslim space Pakistan. And Bengali-Hindus (mostly affiliated to Congress) claimed Tripura to be always have been homeland of 'Tribals and non-tribals'. In 1947-8, members of the Congress, through president of Bengal Pradesh Congress, wrote a letter to Sardar Patel to send in the military to check the growing strength of Tripur Jatiyo Mukti Parishad (whose backbone were the disbanded WW II Tripuri soldiers) and the menace of Bengali-Muslims shouting slogans every evening in Agartala. We all know which idea won the game. The Bengali-Muslims were, in the words of late Agore Debbarma, hounded out and expelled like whole-sale vegetables. The new government proclaimed martial law in the hills and crushed the Tripur Jatiyo Mukti Parishad. By doing that the state was trying to kill the ideology of Tripura as homeland of (only) hill people. By 1950 Tripur Jatiyo Mukti Parishad abandoned its ethno-nationalist ambitions, erased 'Tripur Jatiyo' from its ideology, and rechristened itself 'Gana Mukti Parishad' (GMP).
Throughout the 60s and 70s, the new Tripura state sanctioned and circulated the idea of Tripura as 'homeland of Tribal and Non-tribal'. This idea was backed by, according to many (Bengali) historians of Tripura, the history of great Manikya rulers who encouraged blooming together of 'tribals' and 'non-tribals'. If this is the history we want for Tripura, if this idea depended on the character of Manikya dynasty, then how come the simlang of Manikya rulers in Battala is a dumping site of shit, a sight of ruined edifices of Manikya rulers, stripped of embellishments? Why have this particular site failed to achieve a sacred status in the eye of the state? In fact, why is the naming of the airport after one of these great rulers problematic for the state? I will try to analyse.
By the beginning of 1970, new Tripuri ethno-nationalist groups emerged to challenge the state. They formed three fronts: political (TUJS), Student (TSF) and armed wing (TNV). Unlike their predecessor, the Tripur Jatiyo Mukti Parishad who visualized the Manikya rulers as villains, these new ethno-nationalists visualized the Manikya rulers as 'tripuri heroes'. They appropriated Manikya history as history of Tripuri nation. This presented huge political challenge to the state. This new imagination of history, if accepted, would mean giving more space to Tripuri ethno-nationalist in fact it would justify the armed movements by Tripuris. The political cost of making Manikya rulers heroes was just too much for the state. So after 80s we find their memory blocked by the state. There is not a single statue of any ruler in capital they built. Who gets to bombard our visual (when we stroll around Agartala), Khudiram Bose (with his heroic open chest position in front of the palace that once was Manikya's seat of power), Netaji Bose (on galloping horse with his trade mark pointed finger) and other Banerjees and Chaterjees.
Memory making in Tripura is drawn mainly from pool of Bengali heroes from Bengal, and few non Bengali heroes from Indian nationalistic movement. These heroes are chosen to constantly remind us our connection to Bengal and to India. Manikya rulers, now appropriated as Tripuri heroes, cannot be chosen to remind us of glorious past of Tripuris. They cannot form part of our visual politics in Agartala. They cannot become heroes appropriate for spaces like airport. But then what happened to the state's idea of Tripura as land of 'Tribals and Non-tribals'? Why are Tripuris missing in the inscription of this new idea of Tripura?
This 'missing' is what is being challenged in the invention of 'Tring'. The revival of Tipperah Era is an attempt to reclaim a historical event the defeat of Bengal ruler by Tripuri ruler. Tring commemorates and celebrates that victory. Tring then is historicized. By doing this we question our present situation in Tripura. If this is a homeland of 'Tribals and Non-tribals', why are 'Tribals' marginalized? Why are our heroes missing? Only the people who have no idea of history will try to find its evidence in historical sources. They don't realize that every calendar is modern invention. Ultimately, it is no longer about history. It is about who we are now and what we want to be now. So go out and bask in celebration, which is at once political and historical.
The post-Manikyan Tripura state produced, sanctioned and circulated a workable idea of Tripura. However, it is now a failed idea. One example being the exclusion of their (Tripuri ethno-nationalists) version of history from the memorial landscape. I believe future of Tripura depends so much on the success of this idea. The state needs to re-appropriate Manikya history and recognize its rival interpretation (by recognizing Tring for example). As long as this is a failed idea, it leaves out huge contradiction in its imagination and its inscription onto the landscape. That contradictory space will be inhabited by rival ideologies, which will continue to defy, challenge and threaten the sanctioned idea of Tripura.
[Much of the arguments made here are drawn from work-in-progress research paper, tentatively titled, 'Heroes and Histories: The Making of Rival Geographies of Tripura'. Therefore readers are advised not quote without prior permission from the author]
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