The issue of migration has always been prevalent in Tripura. The State witnessed the settlement of people from other States on various occasions— especially from undivided Bengal, after partition in 1947 and during the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971. The issue of migration had always remained a matter of concern for the indigenous people, as this divided the State into various ethnic and religious segments thereby altering its demographic composition, with Bengalis becoming a clear majority, culturally and administratively. Thus, perceiving it as a threat due to rapid settlements, the tribal people of Tripura believed that they had been reduced to an ethnic minority in their own State, due to the influx of Bengali migrants.
In the Lokniti-CSDS survey when people were asked about their opinion on issues related to migration and the settlement of migrants, voters in Tripura shared mixed perceptions, but some differences could be observed among tribal and non-tribal people. For instance, a little less than half of the non-tribal people believed that for the development of Tripura, people from outside were necessary whereas only three in ten (30%) tribal voters agreed with this statement. Interestingly, non-tribal voters, too, like tribal voters thought that the outsiders had spoiled the culture and way of life of the people of Tripura. However, tribal voters were less likely to believe that the State government had successfully controlled migration as merely one in five (18%) said so whereas a little over half of the non-tribal voters believed that the government had successfully controlled migration. On the issue of making a law banning the settlement of people from outside Tripura both tribal and non-tribal voters equally sought a law by the government that banned the settlement of outsiders in Tripura.
Sensing the nerves of the people on the issue of indigenous identity and migration, Pradyot Manikya Debbarman, the chief of TIPRA Motha designed his party’s campaign around this issue and pushed his demand forward for ‘Greater Tipraland’. It was also found that nine in ten tribal voters fully supported the demand for ‘Greater Tipraland’. This demand was not new as in the past the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) was formed in 1979 which aimed to protect the social, economic, and cultural interests of the indigenous people of Tripura. In fact, another regional party, the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT) was also vocal about this issue and garnered support from the tribal voters. But the entry of Motha in the electoral fray further gave a push to this demand in Tripura as the TIPRA Motha party chief said that he would extend open support to the party or alliance that would give a written assurance to give a ‘Greater Tipraland’.
When it comes to the tribal population of Tripura, the opinions seem stronger as there resides a greater apprehension among the people over the migrant influx. This is primarily due to the fear of losing the very core of their identity and culture, and the greater fear of a resource crunch for the natives. Indigenous people constitute a significant proportion of the population of Tripura and whether the idea of a ‘Greater Tipraland’ as propagated by the TIPRA Motha could resolve the migrant crisis, will only be tested in due time.
Jyoti Mishra and Aaliyia Malik
(Authors are researchers at Lokniti-CSDS)