Complacency overrides necessity in Tripura

satyabrata chakraborti

THE authorities in Tripura and New Delhi have enough reason for concern following the recent busting of an ISI racket in the region. President Pratibha Patil is scheduled to arrive in Agartala on 21 September for Tripura Central University’s convocation and Bangladesh Prime Minister Hasina Wazed is also expected to attend, though Dhaka is yet to communicate her final programme.
As the President’s schedule was being given the final touch, Omar Sharif, an agent of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, was arrested in West Tripura’s Sonamura border town in June after he had crossed over from Bangladesh’s Comilla region with two Indian collaborators and at least five others who were later picked up from different places in Tripura and Assam on basis of information given by Sharif during interrogation by senior security officials.
The incident, however, comes as little surprise because Tripura shares an 856-km partially porous border with Bangladesh that has become something of a “safe” conduit for the transborder anti-national elements. And there is enough complacence on the part of the authorities in New Delhi and Agartala given that the state’s ethnic insurgency is showing signs of decline. Speculation is rife over the manner in which foreign elements sneak into this state on the way to hideouts here and elsewhere in the region by taking Indian intelligence for a ride. Omar Sharif is an ISI officer who had been operating a network in the North-east and he is said to have made some significant revelations.
Mamun Mia’s arrest last year was definitely one instance of how callously the police and the administration deal with the situation. He stayed at a Left Front minister’s official (whom he claimed to be a relative of) residence in Agartala and would regularly tour Bangladesh and some of the North-east areas. Mamun Mia was found to be involved in an organised fake currency racket even as minority welfare minister Shahid Choudhuri, in whose residence Mamum Mia had been staying, told the police he was completely in the dark about the man’s activities. Choudhuri was immediately removed from the ministry when Mamun Mia was sentenced to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment.
The circulation of fake currency is posing a serious problem for the entire North-east, more so because innocents find themselves at the receiving end. Even the bundles received from nationalised banks contain fake notes, and this despite a recent Reserve Bank of India circular alerting all nationalised banks operating in Tripura.
As though this were not enough, confusion prevails over the recent arrest of National Liberation Front of Tripura supremo Biswamohan Devbarma by Bangladesh intelligence personnel somewhere in Chittagong. Though top Ulfa leaders, including one of the outfit’s founders and present chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, were earlier arrested by Bangladesh security personnel and handed over to Indian authorities, Dhaka is yet to officially announce Devbarma’s arrest. Barring media reports, his family members, now residing in Mohanpur in North Sadar subdivision of West Tripura, have confirmed his arrest in Bangladesh. And yet the state government claims ignorance in the absence of confirmation from the Union home ministry. And this in spite of Dhaka showing a political resolve to act against North-east rebel elements hiding in that country. In fact, Devbarma was arrested on the basis of intelligence inputs earlier supplied to Bangladesh by New Delhi.
One may recall the surrender of Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl’s Tripura National Volunteer’s in August 1988 after an agreement was reached with then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Devbarma had then gone into hiding in Bangladesh to form the NLFT with the TNV faction that was left behind by Hrangkhawl in a forest hideout beyond the international border, apparently to reap a strategic advantage. Devbarma even contested, unsuccessfully, the Tripura East tribal reserved Lok Sabha seat as a candidate of the Tripura Upajati Juba Samity. And it was the NLFT that subsequently forced Tripura’s hill regional parties to float a joint front in 2000 by sinking their individual identities.
Interpol had issued a Red Corner notice for the NLFT supremo’s arrest after its intervention was sought by the the state police. His arrest will now no doubt weaken the morale of already declining clandestine ranks. Earlier, a tripartite memorandum of settlement was signed with the NLFT faction led by Nayanbasi Jamatiya in December 2004. In this context, a special economic package has been sanctioned by the Centre for taking up a number of projects for the state’s tribal welfare. A fund of Rs 14 crore was released by the state government to implement the programme. Interestingly, Jamatiya preferred to renege after signing on the dotted line. He returned to his Bangladesh hideout, leaving his followers in a designated camp. NLFT members of the Nayanbasi faction have already been given economic resettlement while Jamatiya is on the “wanted” list.
Fresh recruitments to underground ranks and, at the same time the surrender of arms by belligerents, have become a regular process. About 8,300 militants have so far surrendered arms in Tripura over the past 15 years. And lasting peace is still elusive, with terrorists playing into the hands of the ISI and fundamentalist groups beyond the border.
The Tripura government has been told repeatedly by the Centre that the ISI strategy is to step up the proxy war in wide areas of the North-east to further strengthen the strategic alliance between various terrorist groups’ focus on attacking security forces; the comprehensive use of India’s immediate neighbourhood to execute ISI plans; subversion; indoctrination and training of vulnerable sections of society; espionage; targeting the economic infrastructure and destabilising India’s economy by circulating fake currency.
And yet the state authorities have failed to take effective measures to combat the menace. A flexible approach in security planning has, as a result, been allowed to take its toll. And, more importantly, the Union home ministry continues to be found wanting in developing effective mechanism to monitor the day-to-day situation in the North-east states.

The writer is The Statesman’s Agartala-based