On January 27, 2024, a cadre of the Biswa Mohan Debbarma faction of National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT-BM), identified as Chhanaklu Debbarma, surrendered before the Border Security Force (BSF) in the Dyke village of Dhalai District of Tripura. Chhanaklu Debbarma had joined the outfit in October 2022.
On January 14, 2024, five insurgents of the Parimal Debbarma faction of the NLFT(NLFT-PD) surrendered before the Tripura Police at Agartala in West Tripura District. The Police disclosed that they surrendered with one Chinese Pistol, two Chinese-made rifles, 17 live rounds, a gun, a walkie-talkie with charging port, BDT 770, two Bangladeshi mobile SIM cards, five extortion notices and five extortion receipts. Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIGP, Intelligence), Krishnendu Chakravertty, disclosed that, before surrendering, they had been staying in the group’s hideout in Bangladesh.
On January 7, 2024, Uday Manik Jamatia, a cadre of the NLFT-BM, surrendered before the BSF in the Chawmanu area of Dhalai District. Jamatia had joined NLFT-BM in September 2023.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), 14 insurgents surrendered in four separate incidents in 2023. The seven of the 14 surrendered cadres belonged to NLFT-BM; six to NLFT (faction not identified); and one to NLFT-PD. Since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on insurgencies in the Northeast, a total of 3,818 militants have surrendered in the state.
A statement from BSF Tripura on December 30, 2023, said,
Tripura state has been insurgency prone for last few decades. Due to endeavour of central agencies and state authorities, in recent past several cadres of NLFT(BM) opted to return back to the mainstream of society. Such initiative will certainly motivate the misguided youths to leave the path of violence.
On November 27, 2023, the Tripura United Indigenous People’s Council (TUIPC), a platform of surrendered militants of Tripura, sought a special central package of INR 5 billion for proper rehabilitation of the ‘returnees’. TUIPC chairman and the former chief of the All-Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), Ranjit Debbarma claimed that the state government had failed to fulfil the promises of the 1988 Tripura National Volunteers (TNV) peace accord and added, “We met the special secretary of the [Union] Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), A.K. Mishra, in Delhi on November 22 and submitted a memorandum highlighting the problems of surrendered militants of the state.”
Though no insurgent has been arrested so far in the current year, at least 13 insurgents were arrested in six separate incidents in 2023. A total of 1,093 militants have been arrested in Tripura since March 6, 2000.
Meanwhile, a statement from the Tripura Police released on January 15 observed,
Since January 2023, a large number of NLFT cadres surrendered before security forces. So far, 26 active members of NLFT surrendered before Tripura Police and other security forces working in Tripura. During the period, 8 cadres of NLFT have been arrested by Tripura Police. With the surrender of 05 (five) cadres today on 15-01- 2024 Tripura has further advanced towards making the state insurgency free.
On September 18, 2023, Pradyot Kishore Manikya Debbarma, the former chairman of Tipra Motha, a regional political party, urged NLFT cadres to join the mainstream and advocate for the rights of the indigenous people of Tripura in New Delhi,
I appeal to the NLFT cadres who are in hiding in Bangladesh to join the mainstream and refrain from resorting to violence, as guns cannot solve our problems. Together, we will raise our voices in Delhi for our demands.
Indeed, Tripura remained peaceful through 2023. The state recorded a single killing in the year when ATTF cadres shot dead a Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) local tribal leader in Sadar (east) subdivision of Tripura on January 4.
A lone fatality was reported in 2022 as well. On August 19, suspected NLFT-BM militants killed a BSF trooper, Head Constable Girjesh Kumar Uddey, in a remote forest area of Kanchanpur sub-division in North Tripura District.
The last militant fatality in the state was reported back on July 23, 2012, when one NLFT militant was killed at Majimonipur under the Raishyabari Police Station in Dhalai District.
In fact, in 14 years beginning 2010, while eight years have witnessed overall fatalities in single digits, no fatality was reported in another six years. Earlier, fatalities had remained in double digits between 2005 and 2009, and in three digits between 1993 and 2004. A high of 514 fatalities were recorded in 2000. Year 2000 also recorded the highest civilian fatalities, 453; while the highest Security Forces fatalities, 50, were recorded in 1997.
Meanwhile, three out of the six factions of the NLFT have given up violence. Two factions of the NLFT, one jointly led by Montu Koloi and Kamini Debbarma, and the other led by Nayanbashi Jamatiya alias Nakbar, were disbanded in 2004 and 2006, respectively. The last to join the negotiation process was the Subir Debbarma faction (NLFT-SD). On August 10, 2019, a tripartite agreement was signed between NLFT-SD, the Union Government, and the Tripura Government. Another minor faction, led by ‘commander’ Prabhat Jamatya, went dormant in 2014. NLFT-BM and NLFT-PD, though, remain active, but have weakened considerably.
The other prominent Tripura-based group, ATTF, remains active, but has also been substantially marginalized.
The Tripura Police website notes,
Presently two militant groups namely NLFT and ATTF are operating in the state. They are equipped with sophisticated weapons and have the expertise and training in explosive handling largely due to their link with ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence]. Some fundamentalist elements of Bangladesh who are opposed to Indo-Bangladesh friendship tie are also providing logistic support to the outfits.
On October 3, 2023, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) re-imposed the ban on NLFT and ATTF for five years. The UMHA notification stated that these organisations and their allied outfits have been proscribed for their involvement in various subversive activities and threatening the country’s sovereignty and integrity. The declaration, which was effective from October 3, 2023, for a period of five years, encompasses all factions, wings, and front organizations associated with these groups.
A significant portion of Tripura’s current problems stem from its porous 856-kilometers, long international border with Bangladesh, which bounds each of the State’s four Districts, making it crucial for authorities to remain vigilant against illegal activities. Aside from illegal elements, including militants, smugglers, and armed thugs, this vulnerable border has facilitated the movement of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Under difficult circumstances, the BSF Tripura Frontier has been fighting insurgency, upholding border sanctity, and stopping a range of trans-border crimes.
A statement from the BSF on January 2, 2024, noted that a total of 744 people had been arrested by the BSF while they were trying to illegally enter India from Bangladesh through the international border in Tripura in 2023. This number was the highest in the last three years, with the BSF Tripura Frontier arresting 369 infiltrators in 2022 and 208 in 2021. Among the detained individuals in 2023, 112 were identified as Rohingyas, while 337 were Bangladeshis and 295 were Indians. Along with preventing unauthorized border crossings, BSF officers also located and confiscated contraband valued at INR 418.2 million. The confiscated items include banned cough syrup, cannabis, Yaba tablets, and brown sugar. The Indo-Bangladesh Border Roads and Fence Project, intended to interdict this trafficking, has received significant funding from the central government, but its construction has been labour intensive and delayed.
The Bru issue is another area of concern that has persisted and continues to impact Tripura. The Brus had been forced to flee neighbouring Mizoram due to conflicts with the Mizo population in 1995, and sought refuge in camps in the Kanchanpur sub-division of Tripura. To tackle the issue of resettlement of the Brus, a quadripartite agreement was signed on January 16, 2020, between the Government of India, the Government of Tripura, the Government of Mizoram, and Bru representatives, to permanently resettle 6,959 displaced Bru families (37,136 persons) at various locations in Tripura with a financial assistance/package of around INR.661.00 crore. According to the Agreement, each resettled Bru family would be given 30×40 sq. ft. of land and INR 150,000 for the construction of a house, a fixed deposit of INR 400,000, INR 5,000/- cash assistance per month for two years, and free ration for two years. However, four years after the agreement was signed, the resettlement process remains incomplete. Some families have moved to 16 new settlements, but many continue to live in the old shelters.
After nearly three decades of virulent insurgency, Tripura has remained largely peaceful for over a decade and a half. Though NLFT has remained notionally active in the State, it is hardly seen engaging in violence and many of its cadres have given up arms. Unfenced arenas of the porous international border with Bangladesh, however, remain a problem for the State and border management is a challenge that still needs to be addressed.