“We did what we had to do.” There is no regret in the voice of Kajal Debbarma of the outlawed rebel outfit National Liberation Front of Tripura’s Sabir Debbarma faction whose cadres laid down arms on Tuesday, apparently in response to Narendra Modi’s appeal for peace.
“We took up arms for the sake of development of tribals; looking back, there is not regret that we did so,” says Debbarma, the self-styled Information and Communication Secretary of the outfit.
Debbarma claimed they have secured an assurance from the Centre and state governments to allocate Rs 100 crore for development of tribals as per the agreement, but refused to say how much his faction members would get. He also said the government would provide free vocational training with a stipend of Rs. 6,000 per month to anyone who wishes to take up that training. Deputy Tripura Chief Minister Jishnu Devvarma said small cases pending against the returnees would be reviewed.
On Tuesday, Sabir Debbarma, also known as D. Yamrok, chief of NLFT’s breakaway faction handed over his rifle, shook hands with Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb and exchanged smiles before waving to the hundreds of people assembled here. His faction — 125 persons including 88 cadres of the outfit and their families — surrendered at Chandraipara School Grounds as per a tripartite Memorandum of Settlement signed on August 10 in New Delhi.
Tripura CM Deb chaired the session and met the cadres. In an oblique reference to Congress regimes, Deb said all insurgent outfits of the region were frustrated to join rebel groups due to faulty political policies of the past.
NLFT’s Biswamohan (BM) faction was the only active insurgent outfit in Tripura till it suffered a split at the hands of Debbarma. After his faction responded to the PM’s call to surrender, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Border Security Force (BSF) worked along with the state government to facilitate the talks. The insurgents were holed up at Khagrachari in Bangladesh where some of the key men had settled. As the talks dragged on, there was a feeling they would be called off. But Sabir and Kajal managed to cross the border, fly all the way to New Delhi to sign the final agreement on August 10.
The NLFT was formed on March 12, 1989 with the agenda of a sovereign Tripura with Dhananjoy Reang as its self-styled chairman. Reang, who floated the idea of secession from India, was expelled from NLFT in 1993 and his subordinate Nayanbasi Jamatia became leader of the faction. In another split in 2001, a faction led by Biswamohan Debbarma emerged. The Nayanbashi faction chose to surrender and avail rehabilitation package of the state government in 2004 even as the outfit’s chief called off ongoing talks and fled to Bangladesh.
NLFT was outlawed in 1997 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and later under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, NLFT has been responsible for violent activities including 317 insurgency incidents in which 28 security forces and 62 civilians lost their lives during the period 2005-15. Peace talks with NLFT were initiated in 2015 and there has been no violence by NLFT since 2016.
“We were the bulk of NLFT. All the weapons were with us. We have surrendered them all. There are around 20 cadres still left in the woods who refused to join us. Unless they stumble on a major source of funding, weapons cache or can massively recruit right away, they don’t mean much of NLFT,” Kajal claimed.
While there are no regrets, there seems to be new thinking. “Armed struggle can’t give final solutions. Let our educated children take up education. Pen is mightier than all weapons.”