It must be terrible to live in constant fear of the killer’s gun. Large numbers of people in Tripura seem doomed to such a frightful existence, thanks to the government’s inability to protect them from ruthless killers masquerading as insurgents. The brutal killing of 26 innocent villagers last week is one more proof that violence has become an end in itself for Tripura’s militant groups. The ethnic militancy that began two decades ago ostensibly to reclaim the state for the once-majority tribal population has clearly degenerated into a murder machine. The rebels can no longer have any doubt that the killings will not help them achieve anything, let alone their goal of establishing a “sovereign tribal state”. But, if they can easily strike defenceless people with death and terror, it is largely because of the state government’s abject failure to meet the challenge. The ruling Marxists have only their own muddled politics to blame for this. The anxiety to retain their political base among the tribals seems to tie their hands on what is clearly a law and order problem. It is understandable that the government has to be wary of the militants’ cynical design to incite ethnic passions. That cannot, however, be an excuse for inaction.
Tripura’s problem is compounded, like those of several other northeastern states, by its porous border with Bangladesh. The latest killings once again exposed the rebels’ strategy of using some areas across the border as training camps and hideouts. The Union home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, and Tripura’s chief minister, Mr Manik Sarkar, recently put the number of such camps at close to 90. The issue has been a constant irritant in relations between India and Bangladesh, which routinely denies the existence of any such camps on its soil. The massacre in Tripura, allegedly perpetrated by members of the All Tripura Tiger Force raiding from across the border, once again rips through Dhaka’s bluff. Terrorist strikes in different parts of the world have proved beyond doubt that harbouring terror groups for narrow gains can be a dangerous game . It is time New Delhi sent an unequivocal message to Dhaka that relations between the countries cannot improve unless northeastern militants are driven out from Bangladesh. Tripura’s chief minister is right in arguing that this aspect of the problem makes it difficult for the state to tackle it without the Centre’s help. He is justified in asking New Delhi for more paramilitary forces to deal with the situation. But, while New Delhi talks to Dhaka, the state government too needs to show greater political will to tackle the problem.