Tripura Assessment - Year 2016
As the State Government consolidated the stabilization process through 2015, Tripura emerged as the most peaceful State in the entire Northeastern region of India in terms of insurgency-related fatalities. While 273 such fatalities were recorded across the region, including 62 civilians, 49 Security Force (SF) personnel and 162 militants, Tripura did not account for single insurgency-linked death. Even Mizoram, one of the least insurgent-affected States in the region, and which has been at peace since the collapse of the insurgency in 1986, witnessed three fatalities (all SF personnel) in 2015.
Previously, Tripura had shared the distinction of being the most peaceful States in the region along with Mizoram in terms of fatalities in 2013 and 2011. In 2011, both the States had recorded a fatality each, while there were no such fatalities in 2013. However, Tripura had faced a minor hiccup as it recorded four insurgency-related killings, including two civilians and two SF personnel, in 2014. Mizoram recorded two civilian fatalities in 2014.
Crucially, at the peak of militancy in 2000, Tripura had recorded 514 fatalities, including 453 civilians, 45 militants and 16 SF personnel, an extraordinary number for a population, at that time, of under 3.2 million.
Other parameters of violence also continued to register declines. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) data, five persons were abducted in three incidents in 2015, as against six incidents in which 10 persons were abducted in the previous year. Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar disclosed on August 22, 2015, that over the preceding two years, 18 people had been abducted, of whom 16 were subsequently released by the rebels. No incidents of explosion were recorded through 2015, as in the previous year.
Meanwhile, SFs continued to maintain pressure on the degraded militancy in the State. Nine militants were arrested in 2015, including six cadres of the Biswamohan Debbarma faction of the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT-BM); and one cadre each of the Bru Democratic Front of Mizoram (BDFM), Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and purportedly of the Islamic State (IS). During 2014, SFs had arrested four militants, all NLFT-BM cadres, in three separate incidents.
Feeling the pressure, a total of seven militants (all belonging to NLFT-BM) surrendered during 2015. 'Deputy chief of the army staff' of NLFT-BM, Athurbabu Halam aka Semifa aka Babu (41), his wife Rengchonkip Halam and daughters, along with two other cadres, ‘sergeant major’ Uttam Kumar Jamatia aka Wathui and ‘corporal’ Krishna Mohan Debbarma aka Kiting surrendered on May 9, 2015, before the Director General of Police (DGP) K. Nagraj at the State Police Headquarters located in Agartala. According to the Police, they were intending to surrender for a long time. 31 militants, including 18 NLFT-BM cadres, had surrendered in 2014.
The All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), the only other major militant outfit which operated in the State is now largely inactive. The last violent incident attributed to the group dates way back to April 2, 2009, when a blast took place targeting a Border Security Force (BSF) patrol party in the Amar area in North Tripura District, along the Tripura-Bangladesh border, with no reported fatality. Replying to a question on militant formations operating in the State, Chief Minister Manik Sarkar informed the State Assembly on February 19, 2015, that only three or four militants remained with ATTF. There is no further information about the current strength of the outfit, though it remains on the list of 39 groups banned by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA).
Not surprisingly, on May 27, 2015, the State Government announced its recommendation to the UMHA to issue a notification for the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958, and the Disturbed Areas Act (DAA), 1967, from the State. Announcing the decision, Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, who also holds the Home portfolio, observed,
The decision to withdraw the law was taken by at a Cabinet meeting held at the Civil Secretariat followed a go ahead from security agencies in the State.
AFSPA was last extended in Tripura for six months on November 29, 2014. At that time, out of the 74 Police Station areas in the State, AFSPA was in force in 30 – fully operational in 26 Police Station areas and partially in the remaining four. AFSPA was enforced in two-thirds of the all Police Station areas (then 42) of the State 18 years ago (on February 16, 1997) to curb a raging ethnic insurgency.
Residual threats do, however, continue to exist. According to a report dated February 17, 2015, the NLFT-BM's estimated cadre strength remained between 120 and 130. The outfit was responsible for all four fatalities recorded in 2014.
Chief Minister Sarkar admitted that NLFT-BM remained a problem. On August 26, 2015, the Chief Minister claimed that, as part of the peace process, his Government had held two rounds of ceasefire talks over the preceding six months with NLFT-BM in Delhi and Shillong, but argued, "NLFT-BM wanted ceasefire before the peace talks proceeded. But the state government did not accept it. In the last six months, the outfit has issued subscription (extortion) notice and made kidnap bids even though the talks were on." Subsequently, on August 30, 2015, Sarkar categorically rejected NLFT-BM's ceasefire offer on the grounds that the state would not compromise the people's security in any agreement with an anti-national outfit. Significantly, NLFT-BM had abducted two tribal youth on August 29, 2015, from the Maldakumarpara Tribal Hamlet under the Ganganagar Police Station in Dhalai District abutting the Chittagong Hills Tract (CHT) of Bangladesh. No further details about the abducted persons are available.
Moreover, though the number of terror camps in Bangladesh of militant groups operating in India’s Northeast declined drastically, some camps remain. On January 4, 2016, Tripura DGP K. Nagraj stated: “…till recently there were 16 terrorist camps and a safe house in Dhaka run by anti-Indian militants on Bangladesh soil, but the Bangladesh Army and Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) had launched a fresh crackdown. As a result, there are now three major camps in Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, besides the safe house in Dhaka.” The continued presence of NLFT-BM in Bangladeshi territory was evident from the fact that NLFT-BM’s ‘sergeant’ Mangal Debbarma killed his comrade Shanti Lal Tripura at Khagrapur village in Khagrachari District in South Eastern Bangladesh, on May 16, 2015.
Although, more than 90 per cent of fencing along the 856 kilometers long Tripura border with Bangladesh has been completed, the mountainous terrain, dense forests and other hindrances make the borders porous and vulnerable, enabling illegal immigrants and intruders to cross over.
Another major concern for Tripura is the renewed demand for the formation of a separate State for the indigenous tribes of Tripura, 'Twipraland'. On December 16, 2015, at least 15 people were injured in clashes and around 2,000 picketers were arrested during a dawn-to-dusk strike called by the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT) in support of a separate tribal state. Further, a newly formed tribal party, the Tipra State Party (TSP) conducted an agitation march in Agartala on January 18, 2016, for a separate ‘Twipraland'.
Tripura has secured extraordinary success in eradicating insurgency from its soil through sustained Police-led operations, backed by a multidimensional approach that aggressively promoted developmental work to counter the psychological hold of militants. These initiatives have included infrastructure development, the provision of basic services for people in affected areas, and opportunities for surrendered militants to return to the mainstream. One dramatic index of Tripura’s success is that the State retained the top position in India for the seventh consecutive year in providing work to job card holders under MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). The State Government provided 68 days of work per household in 2015-16 against a National average of 36 days.
Tripura’s counter-insurgency campaign was driven by a trained and reorganized State Police, led by the Tripura State Rifles (TSR), rather than by the Army or Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs), as is the case with most of the other Northeastern counter-insurgencies. The State established a remarkable Police presence, with 736 Policemen per 100,000 population and 261 Policemen per 100 square kilometers (according to Bureau of Police Research & Development data). The number alone is not extraordinary; Manipur has 1,271, and Nagaland 1,048 Policemen per 100,000 population, and the State Forces have performed very poorly in counter-insurgency (CI) campaigns as well as law and order management. Tripura’s success, in fact, evolved out of dramatic improvements in Police training, equipment and leadership, as well as a clear political mandate and enormous political sagacity. Tripura Police records show that the State has reported a reduction in the rate of all crimes and DGP K. Nagraj disclosed that the rate of conviction had also risen to 30 per cent in 2015 from 20 per cent in 2014.
Counter-insurgency, development and governance in Tripura offer an exemplary model of the ‘holistic’ response other States ordinarily pay lip service to, but fail to implement. Given the continuity of political leadership – Manik Sarkar is serving his fourth continuous term as Chief Minister – and the processes of capacity building within the Police and civil administration, the residual irritants along the internal security spectrum are unlikely to see any further escalation.