Relocation of a 40-foot memorial of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War from the heart of Agartala to a memorial park built on the city outskirts has led to widespread protests in Tripura and neighbouring Bangladesh, with political parties, cultural organizations, intellectuals and many others demanding the memorial's restoration as a symbol of bond between the two countries and Tripura's role in Bangladesh's war of independence.
"We are deeply saddened after the war memorial that stands as a bond between two countries was removed. We appeal to the Indian authorities to restore the memorial in its original place to preserve the relationship between people of the two countries", a group of Bangladeshi artists, historians and freedom fighters stated in a joint statement released recently.
The war memorial at Post Office Chowmuhani including a tank, an artillery gun and some other war materials captured during the 1971 war from erstwhile East Pakistan is being relocated to the Albert Ekka Memorial Park, built in 2018, as part of Smart City Mission project and following the Indian armed forces' demand to move the old Chowmuhani war memorial alongside the new one at the memorial park.
A replica of the 40 feet victory pillar already exists at Albert Ekka Memorial Park, named after Lance Naik Albert Ekka, who died fighting to save Agartala from the Pakistani forces and was awarded Param Veer Chakra, which is the highest war time military honour, for his valour shown in the battle at Gangasagar (now in Bangladesh) during the 1971 war.
Shifting of the war memorials from Post Office Chowmuhani began last November and the then West District magistrate Shailesh Kumar Yadav said it was partly being done following the Indian Army's long standing demand to bring both memorials together after Biplab Kumar Deb became Tripura chief minister in 2018.
"Army & Sainik board raised this issue in front of chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb after he came to power in 2018. The project was taken up under Smart City Mission after floating an open tender at a cost of Rs4.83 crore and it was done following written permission from Sainik Board and consultation with the Indian Army authorities," a statement signed by Yadav had said.
However, political parties and other social organisations in Tripura are against the move. "We demand the war memorial to be restored. We are hopeful that the government will take a positive approach in this regard," a member of Tripura Cultural Coordination Centre, a CPM-backed organisation, said.
Left Front convener Bijan Dhar said, "We condemn the act of the government. The memorial [represents] a historical sentiment. Without consulting with any political party, the memorial was removed. We protest against this."
Congress vice president Tapas De said it was "an insult" to people of Tripura and the freedom fighters. "India and especially Tripura had played a vital role in the Bangladesh Liberation movement. By removing the memorial, they have insulted the martyrs and Tripura," he said.
BJP spokesperson Nabendu Bhattacharya said, "Our government is trying to protect the memorial and that's why, all the memorials are being shifted to Albert Ekka Memorial Park that has larger space. We can maintain the memorials properly there."
Under the Smart City Mission, the diameter of Post Office Chowmuhani will be reduced to 18 metres from 28 metres after relocation of the memorial, allowing space for traffic movement. The square will then be rebuilt with the Tree of Life theme under the Smart City project.