Tripura Assessment - Year 2014
The stabilisation process gained further momentum in Tripura through 2013, and, remarkably, the State did not record a single terrorism-related fatality through the year - a signal achievement secured for the first time since 1992. 2012 had recorded two fatalities, both militants, in two separate incidents. Significantly, at its peak in 2004, the militancy had claimed as many as 514 lives, including 453 civilians, 45 militants and 16 Security Force (SF) personnel.
Similarly, abduction-for-ransom by militant groups, one of the major worries across the entire Northeastern region, registered a decline in Tripura. As against 11 recorded abductions in three separate incidents in 2012, seven persons were abducted in three such incidents in 2013. In one such incident, militants of the Biswamohan Debbarma faction of the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT-BM) abducted two youth from the Harimani Village Committee area under the Chowmanu Police Station of Dhalai District on July 29, 2013, and demanded a ransom of INR 2,300 from each family of the Harimani Village for their release. The two youth, however, escaped from militant captivity and returned to the village on August 11, 2013.
Crucially, constant pressure exerted by SFs in Bangladesh has weakened the terror outfits operating within Tripura. The two principal militant groups – NLFT and All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) - operating within the State faced major setbacks during the year, compounding the cumulative reverses of past years. On January 23, 2013, SFs disclosed that ATTF 'chairman' Ranjit Debbarma had been arrested from an area under the Sidhai Police Station in the Mohanpur Subdivision of Tripura's West District, near the Indo-Bangladesh border. However, on January 24, 2013, Ranjit Debbarma himself told the media that he was arrested by the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) in Dhaka, and was pushed back into India through Dawki (West Jaintia Hills) in Meghalaya on January 16, and brought to Tripura on January 18.
In addition, SFs in the State arrested another 19 subversives, including nine NLFT cadres, four ATTF militants, five Bangladeshi infiltrators and one agent of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), during the year.
The NLFT, which had been weakened by several splits between 1994 and 2001, suffered another jolt in 2013 when one of its prominent leaders Nayanbashi Jamatiya alias Nakbar, head of the Nayanbanshi faction of NLFT (NLFT-NB), surrendered to the Police in Khowai District on August 9, 2013. Jamatiya had sneaked into Indian Territory through Malda District in West Bengal. Earlier, following peace talks in 2004 NLFT-NB cadres had surrendered en masse in 2006, along with Jamatiya. Jamatiya, however, returned to the jungles, asserting that the talks had failed to secure 'satisfactory' terms for him. Another faction of NLFT, jointly led by Montu Koloi and Kamini Debbarma, had already become defunct after the surrender of the two top leaders on May 5, 2004. Presently, of all the factions of the NLFT, NLFT-BM alone remains active, though mounting pressure by the SFs resulted in the surrender of 14 of its cadres in 2013 alone. In a more recent setback, 'Chief of Army Staff' of NLFT-BM, Pasaram Tripura alias Parshuram alias T. Thomas alias Wathak (51) surrendered in Agartala in West Tripura District on January 10, 2014. He joined undivided NLFT in the year 1994 and was holding the rank of 'Chief of the Army Staff' of NLFT.
On May 16, 2013, Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar disclosed that a total of 8,831 militants and their collaborators had laid down arms over the past decade. Among the surrendered militants, just three persons reneged to rejoin their respective militant outfits. Further, according to Chief Minister Sarkar, Police had seized and recovered arms and ammunition over the past three years, including 61-country made guns, one AK-47 rifle, four grenades, three pistols, two revolvers, a large number of bullets, empty shells and ammunition.
Despite dramatic and positive transformations, however, some residual concerns persist.
On January 2, 2014, Tripura Director General of Police (DGP) C. Balasubramanian stated that the presence of camps of both NLFT-BM and ATTF in Bangladesh remained a worry: “The NLFT headed by Biswamohan Debbarma is still a powerful outfit running around 15/16 hideouts in Bangladesh. One camp is still maintained by the ATTF, that too by two women.” Further, he disclosed that about four to six hideouts were adjacent to the Indo-Bangladesh border while, others were far from it. He also admitted that insurgents were using the Tripura-Mizoram-Bangladesh tri-junction as a transit corridor.
Indeed, NLFT-BM has been active beyond Tripura as well. Over the past two years, areas along the Mizoram-Bangladesh border have become a principal focus of its activities. During 2013, NLFT-BM cadres abducted eight civilians in two separates incidents, in neighbouring Mizoram. In one incident, NLFT-BM militants abducted an engineer of the Delhi-based Telecom Network Solutions, Deep Mondal of West Bengal, along with two Mizos - Sanglianthanga, working with Airtel, and Lalzamliana Aizawl - from Damparengpui village, adjoining the Bangladesh-Tripura border, in the Mamit District of Mizoram, on November 23, 2013. The outfit later demanded a ransom of INR 50 million for Deep Mondal's release. The abductors made no demand for the release of the two Mizos. According to the latest reports, the militants have taken the abductees to Bangladesh, where they still are being held. In 2012, NLFT-BM had abducted 12 civilians from Mizoram.
Another concern is the renewed demand for the formation of a tribal State. The declaration by the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on July 30, 2013, supporting the formation of a separate Telangana State, to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh in South India, and the subsequent endorsement of the idea by the Union Cabinet on October 3, 2013, encouraged the demand for a tribal State to be carved out of Tripura. The Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT) now wants the Central Government to create such a separate State by upgrading the Tripura Tribal Autonomous District Council (TTADC). However, on December 30, 2013, Chief Minister Sarkar stated that he would resist any such move with all his might. The Chief Minister went on to say that “some people are trying to revive militancy for narrow political interests”.
In addition, some 81 kilometres, along difficult terrain, on the 856-kilometer-long Indo-Bangladesh border in Tripura, still remains unfenced creating opportunities for the movement of militant and criminal elements across the international boundary. Some 1309.35 kilometers of the entire 4,096.70 kilometer Indo-Bangladesh border are still to be fenced. However, on December 17, 2013, the Government claimed that only 569.22 kilometers of the border (72.30 in Tripura's case) remained unfenced, and that fencing along 2,787.35 kilometers (775.70 in Tripura's case) out of the sanctioned 3359.59 kilometers (848 kilometers in Tripura's case) had been completed, and fencing along the remaining 3.02 kilometers was 'unfeasible'. The Government further claimed that the sanctioned work would be completed by March 2014. Significantly, India has managed to fence just a two-kilometer stretch on the Indo-Bangladesh border in the past one year.
Summing up Tripura's situation on November 14, 2013, Chief Minister Sarkar, observed:
In view of the situation, the State Government, in December 2013, decided to extend the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in 32 Police Station areas of the State for another six months, commencing January 1, 2014. AFSPA has been effective fully in 25 Police Station areas and partially in another seven since June 5, 2013. AFSPA was operational in all 40 Police Station areas of the State, when it was first imposed in Tripura in February 1997.
The Police led-Counter-Insurgency operations in Tripura have successfully reclaimed peace after some of the most violent decades in the State. The State has also established a remarkable Police presence, with 639 Policemen per 100,000 population, and 223.8 Policemen per 100 square kilometres, well above the national averages of 138 and 52.9, respectively, as well as dramatic capabilities to confront any future challenge of insurgency.
Nevertheless, the residual presence of militant groups across the unfenced and remote segments of the Bangladesh border remains a troubled zone in the otherwise peaceful State. Until such threats are fully neutralized, a final and irreversible victory against the insurgency cannot be declared.