Agartala Smart City: No Place for Kings or Revolutionaries

Saibal Debbarma

As evening sets the town of Agartala comes to life, swooning in their excitement with a seeking for speed and notoriety in their attitude the youth flock around in packs near City Center, Rupasi Cinema Hall, and the Tripura State Museum. Seeking novel sources of euphoria the young people of Agartala buzz around the town in their motor vehicles. One such hub of joyous confluence is the Tripura State Museum or Ujjayanta Palace or Nuyungma- a heritage site turned into a museum and the last seat of the royal lineage of Tripura that gave the town its eminence as the capital of the state. The front of the palace gate is embellished with a plaza towered over by Statues of two Revolutionaries of the Indian Freedom Struggle- Surya Sen and Khudiram Basu. These martyrs are household names in the Bengali community and uphold the Bengali values of self-sacrifice and tireless striving towards freedom of the mind. But this palace symbolizes a clash of identities, cultures, and beliefs between the indigenous and the Bengali community of Tripura and is a living record of the colonial history of India. 

Built between 1899-1901 by the order of Radha Kishore Manikya it was designed and constructed by Martin Tyler Co. The palace is adorned with a dome reminiscent of Mughal architectural wonders and the buttresses and friezes of the Victorian style give it a Modern look thereby embracing in its aesthetic design two powerful conquerors of India: one vigorous and awe-inspiring, another subtle and effective. Under the rule of the former CPI (M) chief minister Manik Sarkar, the museum was turned into a State Govt. Museum and its name changed from Ujjayanta Palace to Tripura State Govt. Museum. This incited a protest from the All Tripura Indigenous Regional Parties Forum (ATIRPF), "a shaky coalition between the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT), the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT), and the National Conference of Tripura (NCT)". The renaming of the Palace was seen by the representatives of the indigenous communities of Tripura as one in the long line of attempts on part of the CPI (M) party (Manik Sarkar has earlier passed a bill in the State legislative assembly to rename the Agartala Airport which was built by Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya after Rabindranath Tagore) to eradicate the presence of their royal history and heritage from the consciousness of the people. The palace became a site for the contention of identities. R.K Debbarma in his article "Agartala as a settler-colonial town" published in the journal of International Institute for Asian Studies ( Newsletter: 77, Summer 2017) writes : 

 " The large statue of Khudiram Bose (see image), with his chest thrust forward, which stands at the entrance to the Ujjayanta Palace, is an everyday reminder of Agartala as a settler-colonial town: the power to recreate one’s place of settlement in the image of one’s original home; the power that produces and is produced through the dispossession of the indigenous population."

Under the BJP party's scheme of developing tourism in Tripura, the Ujjayanta Palace became a popular site for tourism. Except adorning it with an "I Love Agartala" instalment the latest ruling BJP party has done nothing to heal old wounds or console communities whose identities were hurt. Neither were new regulations imposed to safeguard the heritage site.

The plaza has recently turned into a parking lot and driveway and a  place for the veritable display of motor vehicle and automobile stunt show. Although dustbins and trash cans are situated in accessible locations around the plaza the place is littered with red jets of chewed tobacco, ice-cream cups, coffee cups, and food wrappers. The callousness and insensitivity with which the heritage site is treated by the youth of today provokes questions: are they not awed by the historical significance of the Ujjayanta Palace? Have the values for which Surya Sen and Khudiram lived and died for no place of respect in their hearts? What is the authority doing to educate masses to be civic in places of such historical significance? 

Neither revolutionaries nor Kings have any place of veneration in the minds of today’s youth. The legend of Khudiram, who gave his life for freedom ( incidentally killing two British women) seems obsolete, out of place, in the plaza where the youth are wallowing in the mire of absolute freedom .Liberation without education is yielding its poison. When modernity is wrought through an incisive surgery from the past and knowledge of its conflicts people are left without any values to learn. Greece serves as an example of a nation whose desire for modernity through a catastrophic severance from its past has led to a nation that was once rich in values losing its identity. A Smart City that does not educate its masses will not in the long run able to sustain itself. The Smart City plan is set out to prove to be a loss of resources and fundings if the State govt. does not first lead by example and educate the citizens to follow values necessary for sustaining the growth of a smart city.