Melting pot boils over in Tripura

THIS APPEARED IN THE 2/8/88 WORLD EDITION LONG a flashpoint among India's volatile northeastern states, Tripura has been swept by new violence and growing resentment against non-tribal set-tlers.

In the run-up to state elections this past week, rebels of the Tripura National Volunteers (TNV) lashed out against migrants to the tiny state by massacring some 100 of them.

The flare-up is part of a 20-year insurgency rooted in tribal outrage against immigrants, from West Bengal State and Bangladesh, who have swamped Tripura since Indian independence in 1947.

The partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan sent the first wave of refugees into this tribal heartland. In 1971, during the war that created Bangladesh from East Pakistan, more refugees poured into Tri-pura. Today the original tribal inhabitants, who at one time dominated the state, account for less than one-third of the population of 2 million.

Tripura's ethnic bitterness has found expression in one of India's most persistent insur-gencies. During the 1980s, the TNV has stepped up attacks to force political rivals and non-tribals to leave the state. The recent influx of Chakma tribal refugees from Chittagong in Bangladesh has given a new desperation to the rebellion.

Tensions have been further aggravated as political parties have manipulated the ethnic unrest for their own ends. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's Congress (I) party has allied itself with local tribal organizations and battled the communist-led state government. The infighting has allowed the outlawed TNV to gain strength and momentum.

In January, Mr. Gandhi and Tripura Chief Minister Nripen Chakraborty agreed to bury their differences and band together against the rebels. Although the accord was seen as an encouraging sign, it quickly dissolved in a new wave of violence by the Tripura guerrillas.

Political analysts see little chance of a settlement in Tri-pura soon.

The rebels' objective is to extract concessions from the central government that would give tribal groups political autonomy. This would copy the pattern set by autonomy accords reached in the troubled neighboring states of Assam, Mizoram, and Nagaland. But after the recent violence, Gandhi seems in no mood to placate them. An accord could endanger his party's fragile support in Tripura and his chances of building a political base in the state.

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