Waves of anticipation, apprehension and frustration followed in quick succession in Tripura as the issue of
the surrender of a faction of the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) led by Nayanbasi Jamatiya (NLFT-N)
emerged and disappeared within a week. In this short period, the subject raised enough heat and dust, leading
to expectations and signals that were interpreted to be the 'beginning of the end' of insurgency in this
peripheral state. There are, however, sufficient indications now that the 'surrender' has been a non-starter,
as all lines of communication with the militants, waiting across the border in Bangladesh, have broken down.
In the first week of January, Nayanbasi appeared to have sent a letter to the state administration from a safe house in the Comilla area of Bangladesh, across the international border opposite the Sonamura area of West Tripura district, expressing his desire to surrender and give up violence. The letter also included certain conditions, which the state government needed to address before Nayanbasi could decide on a formal surrender. These demands were:
A political position for Nayanbasi Jamatiya after he surrenders.
Amnesty for all the NLFT-N cadres.
A meeting with the Chief Minister prior to the surrender.
Amnesty for the Tripura state Rifles (TSR) renegade Rahid Mian.
It was, indeed, difficult for the state government to concede to these demands, especially the amnesty for
the renegade TSR personnel, who had earlier connived with the militants to kill three of his colleagues on
September 23, 2003, in the Shermun Tilla area in North Tripura district.
It is nearly twelve years now since the TSR 1st battalion rifleman Nayanbasi Jamatiya, a man from the Trishabari area under West Tripura's Teliamura police station, had fled his post at the Baramura Thermal Power Plant with a rifle on March 23, 1992, following a dispute with colleagues on the previous night. Having joined the NLFT with the adopted name of 'Major Nakbar', Nayanbasi rose fast in the outfit's hierarchy, mostly due to his skills in guerrilla warfare. Following his differences with the organisation's top leadership, Nayanbasi formed his own group in February 2001, even though it could never really outgrow the NLFT faction led by Biswamohan Debbarma.
With an estimated 250 cadres, of whom only 50 have access to some type of firearms, NLFT-N remained marginally active in the bordering areas of North Tripura and Dhalai district as well as Takarjala and Bishalgarh police station areas in West district. Its only major ambush remains the August 20, 2002, incident in which a TSR vehicle was attacked and 20 security force personnel killed, with a large cache of arms and ammunition, including 18 self loading rifles, one light machine gun, one carbine and several grenades also looted, at Hirapur under the Takarjala police station. Apart from this attack, NLFT-N was generally known for its linkages with the criminal and mafia gangs of the border areas in Bangladesh.
What drove Nayanbasi to send feelers for surrender is still uncertain. There are, however, some indications that in the aftermath of the military operations in Bhutan, in December 2003, India has been able to build up considerable heat on the Bangladeshi authorities to act on the militant outfits long harboured in that country. Bangladesh had to act, albeit in a cosmetic manner, to show that the country is not really providing safe haven to militants operating in India's Northeast. Nothing could have been wiser than to target a small, and hence least consequential, group like the NLFT-N under the circumstances. As a result, on December 28, 2003, a number of hideouts of the outfit were reported to have been raided by the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) in Sylhet and Maulavi Bazar districts, a crackdown which was led by the Commanding Officer of the 39R battalion of BDR at Dhalalpunji transit camp. Expectedly, not a single militant was arrested, since all of them had fled the scene after being tipped off.
If the BDR was trying to send messages to India and the rest of the world, the raid perhaps proved to be a little too much for the militants, who felt that the guarantees of protection they had long operating under were possibly being diluted. Nevertheless, Bangladesh has been quick to react to Nayanbasi Jamatia's surrender moves. Alarmed by the possibility of the NLFT-N cadres returning to India, BDR personnel raided Nayanbasi's safe house in the Comilla area, from where he reportedly had sent feelers for the surrender, in the second week of January 2004. The raid was intended to make Nayanbasi shut up. Nayanbasi, in his long years of courtship with his mentors in Bangladesh, knows too much about the BDR-ISI-criminal nexus, and there was the inherent danger that, once he started talking about his 'field experiences' in front of the Tripura intelligence department, Bangladesh would have a hard time in explaining its 'we do not harbour any terrorist' stand.
There is also a need to look at a related and very interesting piece of intelligence making the rounds in Agartala, the state capital of Tripura. The BDR has apparently asked the terrorist groups operating in Tripura to abandon their present bases in Bangladesh and to take shelter in rented houses in residential areas. As a result, over the past month, several groups have deserted their camps in Sylhet, Maulvi Bazar and Habiganj districts bordering areas of North Tripura and Dhalai districts, as well as the Khowai and Sadar subdivisions in the West Tripura district. The All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) camp located at Satcherri in the Habiganj district of Bangladesh, opposite the Simna area of Sadar in the West Tripura district, and the NLFT camps located in Khasiapunji, Ranirgaon Bazar, Kurma, Naynarpar, Kandigaon and Kukijhuri have also been deserted. On one instance, a terrorist camp at Kukijhuri in the Sylhet district had been burnt down by the BDR after the terrorists abandoned it.
NLFT-N's problems, however, do not start or end with the BDR. Nayanbasi's ability to lead the relatively small band of 250 cadres has, of late, been questioned by many cadres who have surrendered. There are also indications that the outfit and its cadres have been suffering from a lack of direction resulting in a leadership crisis of sorts within the group.
Part of the problem is believed to be Nayanbasi's obsession with women. His first wife Padmadebi Jamatya
(35) works in the Tripura state government's social education department and lives in the Jampuijala area of
Bishalgarh subdivision. Nayanbasi, after joining the NLFT, is known to have married Samirani Chakma (34), a
tribal woman of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in Bangladesh. Subsequently, he married a Muslim woman,
Tahera Bibi (37), daughter of his main patron and Mafia don Abu Mia in Srimangal sub-district area in
Bangladesh's northeast. Tripura police sources reveal that, in order to solemnise his last marriage, Nayanbasi
converted to Islam.
The prospect of Nayanbasi's surrender does not appear to have generated much enthusiasm in Tripura's security set up. In plain terms the surrender would mean that nearly 250 militants, only 50 of whom have some sort of firearms, would give up violence. By the state government's calculation, and going by the outfit's past activities, the NLFT- N is not considered capable of extraordinary violence. Further, the conditionalities listed by Nayanbasi are simply too prohibitive to be conceded by the Tripura government. The end result, consequently, would appear to be 'wait and watch' on both sides.
Bibhu Prasad Routray is Acting Director, ICM Database & Documentation Centre, Guwahati. Syed Sajjad Ali is Correspondent, Hindustan Times at Agartala. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.