It is the cruellest face of militancy in the Northeast and the saddest testimony of a government’s inability to fight it. Yesterday’s massacre in Tripura is one more tragic proof that the people there live completely at the mercy of militants. That the 19 victims included nine women and six children shows the brutal nature of tribal extremism in the state. Both the All Tripura Tiger Force, which is believed to have carried out yesterday’s dastardly attack on innocent villagers, and the National Liberation Front of Tripura have a cynical gameplan in butchering innocents during their raids on Bengali settlements. They want to terrorize the Bengali community and, worse still, trigger ethnic passions and retaliatory violence. The outlaws terrorize and kill tribals, the majority of whom do not support them, with the same objective. No other insurgent group in the Northeast so viciously works to incite one group of people against another. Another outfit of Tripura rebels succeeded in 1980 in igniting a carnage that left hundreds of Bengalis and tribals dead. The danger is always real in a state which has been convulsed by murderous militancy for nearly two decades. It is the common people’s desire for peace and communal harmony that has foiled the extremists’ devilish designs on most occasions.
The government’s responses are another story. Every time there is a bloodbath, the Left Front government cries foul over New Delhi’s alleged indifference to providing help. The administrative failure is sought to be covered up in the meaningless political ritual of organizing a bandh to protest against the killings. It is true that the state police force is ill-equipped and untrained to fight the insurrectionists. In other states in the region such as Nagaland, Assam or Manipur, where too militancy is a major problem, the Centre provides assistance in the form of the army or paramilitary forces. New Delhi’s help is necessary also because these extremists often operate from their bases inside Bangladesh and Bhutan. Tripura’s chief minister, Mr Manik Sarkar, concurs with the Union home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, even on the locations of hideouts the Tripura rebels use in Bangladesh. There is an urgent need to translate this common concern into a coordinated action plan to fight the menace. Political differences cannot be allowed to cloud this threat perception or the strategy to counter it. Mr Sarkar may also take the initiative to involve all political parties, including the opposition, in his efforts to secure the lives of the people. This is not an issue over which the parties can play a game of oneupmanship and resort to half measures.