Naming the Agartala airport after Tripura’s great king Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya and then installing his statue is a welcome initiative of the State Government headed by Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb.
The erstwhile ruling Communists may not like the idea because they are uncomfortable glorifying Tripura’s royal past.
They don’t mind naming roads after Tagore whose most steadfast patron were successive kings of Tripura.
Much before he received adulation in Bengal and surely before he won the Nobel prize for literature, Tagore had been awarded the ‘Bharat Bhaskar ‘ by the Tripura royal family.
And the poet helped by advising the kings on revenue management which was Tagore’s and not their strength.
It was preposterous for the Communists to oppose naming the Agartala airport after Maharaja Bir Bikram because it was the Maharaja who had taken the initiative to build the airport in his capital town.
The airport saved Tripura when the State got cut off from the rest of India after the partition.
It remained the State’s lifeline to the Indian mainland for a long time until the rail reached Agartala a few years back.
Biplab Deb has done the right thing by installing the Maharaja’s statue in Dharmanagar , the northernmost town of the State.
He should do that in Agartala airport for all entering the State to see.
Maharaja Bir Bikram was not only a great modernizer but also epitomized fairness and balance in governance. He rushed to parts of eastern Bengal to save Bengalis during riots and gave them important positions in his administration.
But he also created the Tribal Reserve to protect tribal land and identity anticipating the flood of Bengali refugees who would rush to Tripura to escape persecution after partition.
The Maharaja was also a patriot and had given clear directives to his wife to join the Indian Union when the country became free, unlike many princely states which were averse to join the Union and had to be forced into it.
The Regent Maharani Kanchanprabha Devi, because Maharaja Kirit Bikram was a minor, had no hesitation signing the instrument of accession to join the Indian Union.
By that she foiled the machinations of the likes of Abdul Barik alias Gedu Mia of Anjuman-e-Islamia who wanted Tripura to be merged with Pakistan.
That cruel fate befell neighbouring Chittagong Hill Tracts where the Rajbari failed to back the likes of Sneha Kumar Chakma when they fought for merger with India.
Having installed his statue and deciding to name the airport after him, the BJP government should now resort to Bir Bikram’s modernizing vision and turn Tripura into a knowledge economy.
It should create great institutions of learning which the Maharaja was known for. Agartala is already India’s third internet gateway, linked to Bangladesh’s cyber backbone.
Biplab Deb should take the necessary initiative to come up with a progressive infotech policy that his predecessor Manik Sarkar failed completely, one that should attract India’s infotech majors to invest in the State.
More importantly, Deb should draw lessons from Maharaja Bir Bikram ‘s governance legacy and be fair to both Bengali settlers and indigenous tribals.
He should empower the tribal areas autonomous district council and dismantle the useless 10 MW Gumti Dam to reclaim huge swathes of fertile land for redistribution among tribal landless, many of whom have turned to armed insurgency resenting marginalization.
Trying to add further capacity to this Gumti Dam will not help because adding a few megawatt here is needless when the State has created huge gas fired power projects like the 726MW Palatana Project.
It is more important to economically empower the poor tribals by decommissioning this Dam. This will also send a positive message to the tribals.
The State should also adopt an industrial policy that promotes high value lightweight manufacturing and agro processing on the Taiwan model that was recommended by the 2015 Agartala Conclave.
Deb would do well to focus on these tasks like using the internet gateway to attract infotech investments rather than waste much time on finding out whether internet existed during Mahabharta.