SPOs in Tripura give Cong jitters

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By OUR CORRESPONDENT in Agartala
  • Published 4.01.03
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Agartala, Jan. 4: The Tripura government’s decision to increase deployment of Special Police Officers (SPOs) — recruited as a village defence force to fight militancy — in view of next month’s Assembly elections, has triggered a major controversy in the state.

There are apprehensions that the SPOs, modelled on a similar force in Punjab at the height of militancy there, may be manipulated to benefit the ruling Left Front.

Opposition parties have cried hoarse over the move, saying additional paramilitary forces arriving in the state would suffice, but a firm state government cited the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT)’s increasing depredation as the reason why the SPOs were being rushed to the interior areas. Leader of the Opposition, Jawhar Saha, said the Congress would move the Election Commission on the issue. He said the SPOs were being deployed to influence the voters.

Yesterday, the Khowai sub-divisional administration deployed SPOs after winding up a Tripura State Rifles camp at Bagber, where a mass ethnic killing in May 2000 had led to widespread protests. Scores of non-tribals had taken shelter in the Bagber refugee camp after being driven out of their homes in the riots. Local people staged a road blockade on the Khowai-Teliamura road when they came to know that the TSR camp there would be replaced by an SPO camp. They later withdrew the roadblock after the sub-divisional officials assured that the TSR camp would remain.

A total of 90 newly-recruited SPOs were yesterday deployed in three camps of the Gandacherra sub-division after a brief training. Such camps have come up at Krishnapur, Manoranjan Das Para and Kalajhari villages, while two more are likely to be set up in Ratannagar and Dalapati. The Congress and its ally, the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura, have protested the deployment, terming it a “politically-motivated move” to influence voters. The parties alleged that most recruits were CPM activists.

The Opposition had raised the issue in the Assembly, saying only CPM cadre was being recruited to the force, which has come to be known as the “private army of the CPM”. Last year, seven SPOs had deserted the force with arms and ammunition from a camp in Dhalai.

The Congress in Tripura has also opposed a staggered schedule for the coming elections. Saha said that the Left Front was pressing for a staggered schedule only to make a mockery of the poll process.

He said in a small state like Tripura with such a “huge force” at the disposal of the administration, the polls could be completed in a single day.