Overview: Insurgency & Peace Efforts in Tripura

Insurgency

Tripura’s tribal majority demography underwent a sea change as a result of unhindered migration from former East Bengal and subsequently from Bangladesh. The tribals were pushed to the hills, and the politics and administration in the State was dominated by the Bengali speaking locals and migrants. Insurgency started as a protest movement against this phenomenon. The first organized-armed tribal movement Sengkrak originated in mid 1960s as a reaction to settling down of non-tribal refugees in the tribal reserve forest areas. The movement ended in 1968.

Subsequently, Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawal founded the Tripura National Volunteers (TNV). This outfit dissolved in December 1980 was later revived on November 10, 1982. TNV continued its activities till the signing of a tripartite agreement on August 12, 1988, paving the way for the surrender of the TNV cadres. Another militant outfit, the All Tripura People’s Liberation Organization (ATPLO) remained active between December 1980 and July 1983.

The National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) was founded in March 1989 by certain disgruntled TNV cadres led by Dhananjoy Reang. The NLFT, since then, has undergone several splits. The outfit’s leadership and cadres are mostly based in Bangladesh. The NLFT’s dominant faction led by Biswamohan Debbarma remains one of the two active outfits in Tripura. The other outfit, in addition to the NLFT, which has steadfastly refused to be drawn into any peace deal with the government, is the Ranjit Debbarma-led All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), found in July 1990 as All Tripura Tribal Force. In fact, the ATTF had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Tripura government on August 23, 1993. However, a faction led by Ranjit Debbarma decided to carry on their armed campaign. Over the years, the outfit has found shelter in Bangladesh and indulges in hit and run campaigns inside Tripura. Even today, the Tripura People's Democratic Front (TPDF), the political wing of ATTF is engaged in activities against the state.

Another militant outfit active in the state is the Borok National Council of Tripura (BNCT). It came into existence in 1997 and is a sister organization of the NLFT. It mostly manages the abduction and extortion activities of NLFT, mainly in the North Tripura and Dhalai districts.

Though insurgency-related activities are declining in the state, incidents of violence are still occurring. The most prominent was the serial blasts in the state capital, Agartala on October 1, 2008. In this incident, four blasts took place in a span of 45 minutes in Radha Nagar, Gol Bazaar, GB Bazaar and Krishna Nagar localities of Agartala, injuring 74 persons. No organization claimed responsibility but subsequent investigations showed the involvement of ATTF and HuJI, a Bangladeshi terror outfit, in the blasts.

Between 1992 and 2010 (till July 31), at least 3,479 insurgency related fatalities were reported from Tripura. Effective police action since late 2002, however, has managed to weaken the outfits, leading to a sharp decline in the insurgency related fatalities. Compared to 296 fatalities in 2003, the year 2009 recorded only 11 fatalities. Once known as the abduction centre of the Northeast, Tripura has reported abduction of only 11 civilians in 2009 and no abductions during the first seven months of 2010. In 2006, 43 persons were abducted of whom 31 were released and one killed by the militants.

Differences between the NLFT and the ATTF, however, persist and despite some reports of a possibility of collaboration, both continue to operate independently. Attacks are primarily targeted at security force personnel, political party workers belonging to the Communist Party of India-Marxist and businessmen. In the past, the outfit used to attack the workers employed in the laying of railway tracks. However, such attacks have been reduced after police started providing security to such projects. In February 2007, State Transport Minister Manik Dey said that the State government has spent Rs 400 million for providing necessary security to railway line construction workers from Manu to Agartala.

On March 12, 2009, Chief Minister Manik Sarkar said in the State Assembly that between 2006 and 2008, as many as 871 militants belonging to the ATTF, NLFT and BNCT have surrendered to the security forces. He also said that approximately 180 to 200 NLFT and 80 to 90 ATTF militants are still underground. Because of the counter insurgency operations going on in the state, bulk of the cadres and the leadership of the militant outfits are staying in Bangladesh.

With the top leadership and majority of the cadres of the two militant outfits based in Bangladesh, the latter remains vital to any policy as far as ending militancy in Tripura is concerned. After the victory of the Awami League party in the Parliamentary elections in Bangladesh in December 2008, the newly elected Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed assured that the territory of Bangladesh would not be allowed to be used to launch terrorist strikes in India. This gave further impetus towards the end of insurgency in Tripura.

On 29 November 2009, NLFT supremo Biswamohan Debbarma was arrested by personnel of Director General Force Intelligence (DGFI), the Bangladeshi intelligence agency from a posh area of Dhaka. This was a big blow for the outfit. The freedom that the insurgent outfits of India enjoyed in Bangladesh was also curtailed by the new Bangladesh government. Subsequent counter insurgency operations against these outfits also weakened them, which led to demoralization of its cadres and leading to large scale surrenders. In 2009, a total of 215 militants surrendered in Tripura. This included 119 from BNCT, 53 from NLFT, 41 from ATTF and two from unidentified militant outfits.

Peace Efforts

Official measures for ending insurgency through creating more avenues for the tribals include the 1979 Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council legislation. This was meant to assuage the feelings of alienation and deprivation among the tribals. Its impact on insurgency and the polarization of communities in the State has, however, been limited.

In 1987, the TNV leader, Bijoy Hrangkhawal contacted the then Mizoram Chief Minister, Lalthanhawla, to secure an ‘honourable settlement’ with the government. The agreement however, had to wait for a year till a Congress-led government assumed power in the State. A tripartite peace accord was signed on August 10, 1988, ending the TNV insurgency. The Left Front government in 1993 negotiated a bipartite settlement with the ATTF, leading to the surrender of a bulk of its cadres. The re-constituted ATTF and the NLFT have, however, been entirely opposed to any form of negotiated settlement with the government.

The most recent success of the government in weakening the NLFT has been the surrender of the Nayanbashi Jamatiya and Montu Koloi factions of the outfit. On April 15, 2004, Nayanbashi Jamatiya signed a ceasefire agreement following a tripartite meeting with the central and the State government representatives in New Delhi. Although Nayanbashi subsequently abandoned the peace process and fled to Bangladesh, his cadres stayed on and availed the benefits of the surrender cum rehabilitation scheme. Another NLFT factional leader Montu Koloi too joined the New Delhi peace talks and following a ceasefire agreement 72 cadres of the faction surrendered on May 6, 2004.

The ATTF in 2004 outlined three conditions for the beginning a process of dialogue. The conditions were:
1. Those who had entered Tripura after 1949 and whose names did not figure in the voters list of 1952 should be declared as foreigners.
2. The issue of sovereignty must figure in the negotiation process.
3. A representative of the Unrepresented Nations and People’s Organisation (UNPO)—a non-government global body seeking to represent the interest of indigenous communities worldwide—should be present during the peace talk.
These conditions were however, rejected by the State government.

Jamatiya Hoda, the Supreme Council of the Jamatiya tribe, the third largest tribal group in Tripura, led the most manifest peace movement in the State, in the form of popular opposition to terrorism. At the 410th conference of the Hoda on December 13, 2000, tribal leaders resolved not to pay any kind of ‘tax’ to the insurgent outfits operating in the State. The Hoda was opposed to NLFT’s forced conversion drive and constant threats and intimidation. On February 13, 2001, the Jamatiya Hoda pledged support to the government in its fight against insurgency. Success of the counter-insurgency operations, however, has pushed the civil society efforts to the background in recent times.

Peace in Tripura can be mainly attributed to the successful counter insurgency operations in the state. The security forces have been able to reduce the insurgency-related activities to a great extent. In order to deal with the problem of insurgency, Tripura Police has adopted a multi pronged strategy, taking upon itself the responsibility to be the main strike force against the insurgents. The army and the paramilitary acted in coordination with the police but as back-up teams really.

During the last few years, incidents related to extremist violence have shown a sharp decline and the number of kidnapping and extremist killing has also reduced substantially. The number of militants surrendering to the security forces has also increased.

A report of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in June 2009 shows Tripura standing third lowest in insurgency-related incidents in the northeastern region after Mizoram and Meghalaya. Tripura is also starting to attract investors, both domestic and foreign, as insurgency is on a decline and developmental activities are on a rise in the state.