Some of you, especially those familiar with all things Northeast, may now be familiar with the term ‘Frontier Nagaland’. For those who read EastMojo, of course, this term needs no introduction. And the same can be said about Greater Tipraland. At least at EastMojo, this topic has been mentioned with alarming regularity, such is its appeal among the Tripura residents, especially the indigenous people.
As for Garoland, even I will admit, I have not heard the demand make headlines as much as the other two. Mind you, how much we know about these demands does not matter because in truth, these demands, despite what some may promise, may never materialise.
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But that is beside the point. None of the three states: Nagaland, Tripura and Meghalaya, can be considered developed. They are among the smallest economies (state-wise) in India, and their combined population is less than one-third of Assam. Why then do some people believe that they are more marginalised than others in the same state?
It may stun some people, but visit eastern Nagaland’s districts and you will realise why so many residents of these districts believe they have been discriminated against by both state and central government. Good roads, which, in some parts of the nation are seen as almost a fundamental right, are far from reality. Hospitals are in dire straits, the schools often have one or no teacher, and unemployment is over 90%. This in a state where even the capital, Kohima, can hardly be described as an investment/development/modern hub. And despite contributing one-third of the assembly seats, leader after leader, locals claim, have done nothing to bring the modern era to these regions.
During the aftermath of the Oting massacre in Mon, one of the six eastern districts, one of the most lasting memories of reporters visiting the region was how bad the roads were. A year later, when EastMojo visited Oting village again, we were not surprised to see nothing had changed. When even roads become a dream, why should one begrudge people who think their future should take its course, not be held hostage to the whims and fancies of those in power in Kohima?
Greater Tipraland, of course, has its political origins and implications. For too long, the indigenous people of Tripura have felt sidelined at the hands of the majority Bengali population, who continue to hold the key to power. The demand for a separate state for Tripura’s indigenous communities is not new. Almost all indigenous parties have had a similar demand in the past, and when the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura helped the BJP dislodge the Left in Tripura in 2018, it did so because it was demanding Tipraland.
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What is Tipraland? In simple terms, turning the current Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council into a separate state. And IPFT, credit to them, maintained that demand. Of course, the BJP was not paying attention, and today, the IPFT is no closer to its demand than it was in 2018.
And then came Pradyot Kishore Debbarman, Tripura’s royal scion and a former Congress leader who took the Tipraland demand and put it on steroids to turn it into the demand for Greater Tipraland. In theory, Greater Tipraland aims to make a state for all areas that once belonged to the indigenous population. Mind you, there is no official document that acknowledges such a demand. It has also not been tabled in the state assembly. On paper, it is nothing more than a demand. It envisages a state for all Tripuri tribals, including those staying outside Tripura. Yes, even those outside India in Bandarban, Chittagong, Khagrachari and other border adjacent areas in Bangladesh. See this happening anytime soon? I do not.
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And last but not the least, Garoland. Granted, this movement is not as strong as the other two. But this has not stopped people from aspiring for a new state. About two weeks ago, Purno K Sangma, the former CEM of the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council, joined the Garoland State Movement Committee (GSMC) as one of its leaders to pursue the demand for a separate state. This news barely made it into non-local papers, let alone create headlines. But if you are familiar with Garo Hills, you will also know that like those in eastern Nagaland, this region remains far behind the development curve. From bad roads to the shocking state of education to the never-ending destruction of natural resources, Garo Hills almost always makes it to the news for the wrong reasons. The fact that this demand is coming from the land that gave us the Sangmas (Conrad, James, Agatha) and of course, Dr Mukul, shows that development is not assured even when you give the state its core leadership.
All three demands, I believe, are valid and important. This also shows that governance does not become easy when there are fewer people to govern. Governance becomes easy only when it truly counts all its citizens as equals. And as these movements show, that has not been the case in the three states. I have also been surprised at the Centre’s response to at least two of the three demands. The upcoming elections in Tripura, for example, meant Debbarman had Ministry of Home Affairs officials on hotline, even going to Delhi to meet them.
Why is the MHA getting involved in a demand that, to date, has no backing from the state government or even 10 MLAs? Your guess is as good as mine. The same can be said about the Frontier Nagaland demand. The centre, to put it simply, has been more than kind to those asking for a separate state but that is understandable given the upcoming elections. What happens after that remains to be seen. The Central government, I must say, does a wonderful job time and again when it comes to ignoring those demands from the Northeast that do not suit its agenda.
Do not believe me? Ask the Meghalaya government, which, in December 2019, passed a resolution for the implementation of the Inner Line Permit. Despite assurances, the state is no closer to ILP.
Or ask thousands who continue to agitate against AFSPA. Their fight is unlikely to end anytime soon too.
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