ISSN 2330-717X

India: Deepening Ethnic Schisms In Tripura – Analysis

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By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*

On January 3, 2021, Police arrested a cadre of the Biswamohan faction of the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT-BM), Berajoy Tripura (30), from Chawmanu town in Dhalai District. Police recovered INR 25,000 from the militant.

On January 1, 2021, Police arrested an NLFT-BM militant, Montu Debbarma (28), from Teliamuara in Khowai District. Police recovered extorted cash worth INR 35,383 from his possession.

In 2020, Tripura recorded 11 insurgency-linked incidents, including seven incidents of arrest, two abductions-for-ransom, and two incidents of surrender. There were 10 such incidents in 2019. The 2019 incidents included five incidents of arrest, four of surrender, and one of extortion. An all-time low of five incidents (all surrenders) were recorded in 2018. Out of these 26 incidents, 22 incidents were linked to NLFT-BM, two incidents (arrests) were connected with Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and two incidents remained unattributed. The 12 incidents of arrest since 2019 resulted 26 arrests: 18 from NLFBT-BM, two from JMB, and six Not Specified.

Out of the five factions of NLFT formed till date, only NLFT-BM remains somewhat active. Three factions of NLFT – one jointly commanded by Montu Koloi and Kamini Debbarma, one led by Nayanbashi Jamatiya aka Nakbar and another by Subir Debbarma – were disbanded in 2004, 2006 and 2019, respectively. A fourth faction, formed in 2014, under ‘commander’ Prabhat Jamatya is dormant.

The other terrorist outfit which was once active in the state, the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) has long been dormant. The last ATTF incident was reported on April 2, 2013, when Police arrested three suspected ATTF cadres, Manoj Debbarma, Ratan Sadhan Jamatia and Kumaribala, from the Baishnavpur border outpost area in South Tripura District. Fake Indian Currency Notes worth INR 150,000 were recovered from them. 

More importantly, most of the Arrests were made in cases linked to abduction-for-ransom. In the most recent incident, on December 7, suspected NLFT-BM militants abducted three civilians, Subrata Debnath, Ganamohan Tripura and Subhash Bhaumik, from an area between Malda Kumar Para and Hariamoni Para under Ganganagar Police Station in Dhalai District. The trio was engaged by the National Building Construction Corporation Limited (NBCC) for fencing work on the Indo-Bangladesh international border. On December 23, 2020, the families of the abducted workers claimed that the contractor of the project paid INR 1.2 million for their safe release after a series of negotiations over the preceding two weeks. According to sources, the NLFT-BM militants had initially demanded a ransom of INR 30 million for their release.

Extortion and abduction cases are significantly underreported, as families of victims often accede to demands without involving the Police. 

NLFT-BM, currently the only active insurgent group in the state, has, however, failed to carry out any terrorist attack since November 17, 2014, when a trooper of the Border Security Force and a civilian driver were killed and a civilian driver was injured in an ambush in a remote area bordering Pusparam Para under the Vangmoon Police Station in North Tripura District. Though this was the last fatal attack reported in the State, a dead body of a former NLFT faction cadre was recovered from Tuikrama Lake in Sipahijala District on December 14, 2017.

At its peak, militancy had claimed as many as 514 lives in 2004, including 453 civilians, 45 militants and 16 Security Force (SF) personnel, in Tripura.

Despite the dramatic stabilization, however, concerns persist.

Most of the incidents reported since 2019, have occurred along the unfenced areas on the Indo-Bangladesh international boundary. Of the 856 kilometre international boundary with Bangladesh in the state, 67 kilometres, stretching across South Tripura, Sipahijala and Dhalai Districts, remain unfenced. In 2020, the Border Security Force arrested at least 131 people illegally crossing the border to enter India.

More worryingly, terrorists from Bangladesh are reported to have taken refuge in the State. On March 18, 2020, SFs arrested a Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) operative, Abdul Malik, who originally hailed from Sylhet in Bangladesh, from Raghna village under Dharmanagar Police Station in North Tripura District.

Moreover, the State Continued ‘to’ experience? political polarization, mainly along ethnic lines, on issues such as the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill/Act, 2019; National Register for Citizen, etc. In a letter, posted on September 13, 2020, by The Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA), a political party which claims to represent indigenous tribes, the group’s leader Pradyot Deb Barman, wrote a to Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra (INPT) chief Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl, urging the parties representing indigenous groups to unite ahead of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) elections. Pradyot Deb Barman wrote,

I am proposing which may be of an interest to you – a amalgamation of INPT, TIPRA and TPF [Tripura People’s Front] as a new renamed political party because our ideology is same… with issues of CAA, NRC … I also urge greater integration of Tiprasa inhabited areas called Tipraland or Tipraha… [It] should be considered much like the Nagas have done… If the Nagas can talk to the Indian government for a greater Nagalim which includes parts of Myanmar, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam for 22 years then why do Tiprasa’s as a historical kingdom not ask the same? Our existence as an indigenous kingdom is one of the oldest in the region, and the government of India will have to listen to our genuine desire for peace, unity and security…

Similar appeals were made to the other group, TPF, by TIPRA. Responding to the appeal, on October 1-2, 2020, INPT and TPF leadership met TIPRA to set the ball rolling for unification. In the signed press statement shared with the media, the three parties arrived on a five-point consensus. Significantly, the three parties agreed to fight jointly on issues of CAA, NRC, Detection, Deletion and Deportation of illegal immigrants, implementation of Inner Line Permit system, and more autonomy to TTAADC etc.  

TTAADC is a 30-member body, an autonomous arrangement under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, to protect the social, economic and cultural interests of tribal populations. TTAADC covers 7,132.56 square kilometres of the total 10,300 square kilometres area of the State, nearly 70 per cent. The term of the previous TTAADC council ended on May 17, 2020. The council came under Governor’s Rule for six months due to the prevalence of Covid-19. On November 17, 2020, Governor’s Rule was extended for another six months.

The issue of the settlement of displaced Brus in Tripura has also provoked violent protests in the state. The situation turned ugly on November 21, 2020, when protestors from the Joint Movement Committee (JMC), a group of mostly Bengali settlers, blocked National Highway 8 in the Panisagar sub-division of North Tripura District, to protest against the resettlement of Bru-Reang refugees from Mizoram in the Kanchanpur and Panisagar sub-divisions of North Tripura District. Violence by protestors led to the death of Biswajit Debbarma, a Tripuri tribal and a fireman, and injuries to another 22 persons, including Police and fire service personnel, and government officials. Personnel of the Tripura State Rifles later opened fire at the protesters, resulting in the death of Srikanth Das (47), a Bengali settler.

Separately, inter-state border disputes between Mizoram and Tripura, have flared up since August 2020, when both sides reasserted their respective claims over Phuldungsei village in the Jampui Hill Range in the North Tripura District [Tripura] – Mamit District [Mizoram] area, falling along the inter-state boundary between the two states. The situation worsened when “Songrongma”, a Tripura based tribal organisation, declared it would construct a Shiv Temple and do community activities in the area on October 19 and 20.

Over the years, the Tripura Police has achieved a remarkable victory against multiple violent insurgencies. A stabilised polity and the narrowing of the tribal-non-tribal also helped restore normalcy in the State.

Unfortunately, the present polarizing politics and the realignment along tribal-non-tribal lines is recreating instability, undermining long-term gains, especially in the run-up to the TTAADC elections, which are expected to be held by April-May 2021. Further, there are apprehensions that political tensions may allow both insurgents and criminals to exploit the existing weakness along the Indo-Bangladesh border more effectively.

*Giriraj Bhattacharjee
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

SATP

SATP

SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

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