People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIV

No. 17

April 25, 2010

 

Overcoming Insurgency: Tripura Shows the Way

 

From N S Arjun in Agartala

 

MANDAI town, around 30 km away from Agartala, has a dark chapter in its history. The communal riots that took more than 1300 lives of tribals and Bengalis in June 1980 across the state of Tripura began from here. The maximum toll in one place was also here – over 300 people. These riots were engineered by the Congress-TUJS combine with the aim of breaking the tribal-non tribal unity that has been the bedrock of CPI(M) and Left Front's strength in the state. (see elsewhere in the issue for detailed history).  

In this town lives 26 year old tribal youth, Rakesh Debbarma, along with his newly wed wife Khumpoi Debbarma. The story of Rakesh's life is the story of how the Left Front government of Tripura, supplemented by the efforts of CPI(M), successfully overcame the tribal insurgency problem in the state. He was just 16 years when he joined the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) in December 2000. He was part of an 80-member group that crossed over to Chittagong Hill Tracks in Bangladesh and received rigorous training for three months, which included use of LMGs, AK-47s, mines etc. The Bangladesh Rifles personnel trained them, he admits. Asked about his 'exploits' after return to Tripura in April 2001, Rakesh fell silent and refused to spell out.  

After much prodding as to what made him join the extremists, he revealed that one of his maternal uncle, who was a professor in Tripura University, was seriously injured in the 1980 communal riot in Mandai and his leg had to be amputated. This had a bearing on Rakesh's thinking and he believed that only by driving away Bengalis and having an 'Independent Tripura' could the development of tribals be ensured. But after five years of extremist life, Rakesh surrendered in the year 2006 at a Tripura State Rifles camp in Khowai. “I realised after 5 years that all this talk of Independent Tripura was a sham and saw with my own eyes how we ourselves were impeding the development of tribals. There was pressure from my family also to leave the path of extremism.”  

After surrendering, Rakesh Debbarma received Rs 1,87,000 in his bank account from the government out of the special fund provided by the centre to curb extremism in the North East. Another sum of Rs 48,000 was given to him for building a house. The state government also provided him vocational training for 18 months at a rehabilitation camp for surrendered extremists. He was taught vehicle driving and  tailoring. During this  period, he was given Rs 3500 per month for sustenance. Today, Rakesh is totally integrated with the mainstream and is carrying on his living  by agriculture happily. Between 1993 and 2001, a total of 5753 extremists surrendered. Rakesh is one among the thousands more who surrendered and were provided with benefits by the government in the recent past. Many more are waiting for similar outcome. 


HOW THIS

HAPPENED

The extremist related incidents in the state in 2003 were 311 in which 241 persons were killed, including 38 security personnel. The figures in 2009 were: 24 incidents in which 10 persons were killed, including one security personnel. “Today there are plenty of arms and ammunition with the extremists but there are no persons to hold them”, asserts Ranjit Debbarma, the chief executive member of the outgoing ADC. It is not just his assertion, the atmosphere in the villages is such that no extremist can dare to even attempt to find shelter. What is behind this spectacular success? A clear-headed, multi-pronged approach by the Left Front government in conjunction with a vigorous political-ideological campaign against extremism by the CPI(M). The strategy comprised three concurrent elements: taking them on with improved forces and weapons; vigorous development activity in tribal areas; and political-ideological campaign among tribals.  

Regaining the ADC in 2005, after its hijack at gun-point by IFPT and Congress in 2000, the Left Front undertook development works in the tribal areas, wherever possible, with urgency. This was sought to be blocked by the extremists who regularly kidnapped officials, teachers, doctors etc. They routinely killed innocent tribals citing they were police informers or cadre of CPI(M). With schools and hospitals closed and all development activity coming to a standstill, the local tribals could see for themselves the harm being inflicted by the extremists. “The CPI(M) and GMP in particular undertook a massive political ideological campaign among the tribals. We could convincingly make the tribals understand that separatism and divisive slogans would not help them in any way”, said Bijan Dhar, state secretary of CPI(M).  

At the same time, the government undertook a campaign, targeting in particular the families of the extremists. The CPI(M) and GMP mobilised such families in the villages and held meetings which were addressed by government officials. In these meetings, they explained sympathetically the financial and other advantages of their family members returning from the path of extremism. This was taken positively by the families who mounted pressure on their kin to return and join the mainstream.  

Simultaneously the government embarked on a big drive to strengthen the security forces. Its Tripura State Rifles (TSR) was modernised and trained as a crack commando force. Its battalions were increased many fold and many camps were set up in extremist prone areas. They took on the extremists in operations leading to many deaths. The number of encounters in 2003 were 89 and in 2004 they were 84. These came down to a mere 8 encounters in 2009. Also, the fencing of 712 km of border with Bangladesh helped in curbing the free flow of extremists across the border. Only 70 km more remains to be fenced and this is being used by the remainig extremists to stage the very few attacks that continue to happen. So, this pressure from strong operations coupled with growing loss of support in the villages due to CPI(M) campaign forced many extremists to surrender. And unlike in other states, where post surrender the militants are left to the lurch, Tripura has an exemplary record in bringing the surrendered extremists into the mainstream. In the year 1983, two top leaders of All Tripura People's Liberation Organisation (ATPLO) surrendered. One of them, Hemantha Jamatiya, is a minister in the present Left Front government of Tripura while another Khagendra Jamatiya is a DC secretary of CPI(M). 

 

UNFLINCHING

RESISTANCE 

The party of the toiling masses, CPI(M) and its mass organisations like GMP, TYF and TSU had to pay a heavy cost in defeating the insurgency, which in the first place was propped up by reactionary elements of the ruling classes. From 1979 onwards till date over 1800 of its best cadre fell prey to the guns of various extremist forces. The resoluteness of the Party and its cadres is best reflected in the persona of Manoranjan Debbarma, the CPI(M) MLA from Mandai. This popular tribal leader from the area was high on the list of extremists targets. He was forced to leave his village and home in 1985 and could return only after the 2005 ADC elections. In 2002 when he was travelling with a huge security cordon of 50 personnel, his convoy was ambushed near Mandai by a big group of extremists. There was intense firing from the extremists which was retaliated by the security forces. Nine of the security personnel were killed in that ambush but Manoranjan was unhurt. Asked about it, he said “We never cowered under such attacks. Not an inch of ground was conceded to the extremists during the entire period of 1980 to 2005. We carried on our political campaign against them intensively among the masses.”  

Tripura’s experience has underlined that insurgency can be successfully overcome when it is tackled in a holistic manner, not just as a mere law and order problem. Will the nation's home minister care to take a leaf out of Tripura's experience? 

 (PS: Desperate to mark their presence, some extremists are making attempts to strike during the present ADC polls. There has been a report of one such attack taking place in Jagabandhu Para in Gandhachowda sub division on April 15. A group of extremists came and tortured around a dozen of GMP and CPI(M) workers and threatened the villagers against voting for CPI(M) in the ADC polls. Bijan Dhar condemned this incident and asserted that people will defeat the efforts of extremists to disturb the ADC polls.)