February 21, 2020
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Copy-Cat Terror

Militants in the state borrow tactics, training and arms from other outfits in surrounding areas.

Copy-Cat Terror
Tea planters in North Bengal are a worried lot today—scared for their lives. For about a decade now they have been helplessly watching their counterparts in neighbouring Assam waging a seemingly losing battle with various militant outfits. But now trouble is knocking at their doors too.

The year 2000 has brought them face to face with a new reality—at least two new militant outfits have emerged in the state in the recent past and they are adopting the same terror tactics as those employed by insurgents in Assam and the rest of the northeast. Not surprisingly, the ‘chicken's neck', the narrow corridor linking north Bengal and the northeast, is fast turning into a hot-bed of militancy, sending panic waves in the corridors of power in West Bengal and Sikkim.

And there are enough reasons for this panic. Consider this:
  • The Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (klo), a fledgling outfit which wants a separate Kamatapur state carved out of Bengal, has targeted tea garden owners and rich businessmen for their massive extortion drives.

  • The decade-old Gorkha Liberation Organisation (glo), which was lying low till now, has become proactive and has enlisted the help of Naga militants to train its cadres.

  • Two banned outfits based in Assam, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ulfa) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (ndfb), under pressure from security forces there, are increasingly using Siliguri in West Bengal to travel in and out of Bhutan where they have several hideouts.

  • Intelligence reports suggest that isi-backed Islamic militant groups see North Bengal as a region where they can potentially foment trouble.

The reports are damning, if not scary. According to intelligence sources, at least 60 klo cadres have been trained in ulfa camps in the Kalikhola area of neighbouring Bhutan. Indeed, the klo has upped its ante to make its presence felt. At the same time, organisations like the Kamatapur People's Party (kpp) whose militant arm is the klo, and the All Kamatapur Students Union (aksu) have launched an agitation for a separate Kamatapur homeland, adding to the chaos. Says an intelligence official: "The situation in North Bengal is becoming critical with each passing day and it is likely to worsen in the months to come." On November 28, for instance, two kpp activists were killed when police opened fire to break a siege by a mob resisting a security raid and the arrest of a teenage girl. Police had raided a village in Siliguri sub-division in search of kpp activists. Four people were arrested and sent to the police station in Phasidewa. One of them was 16-year-old Sujala Singha, who was picked up for resisting her brother's arrest. Although those arrested were not klo activists, police say that there is no difference between kpp and klo. Says Darjeeling district SP Sanjoy Chander: "Evidence suggests that the dividing line between the kpp, the aksu and the klo has become very thin. They are one and the same organisation."

Those demanding a separate state have already identified the districts to be carved out from North Bengal. These include: Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Malda, North and South Dinapur and the plains of Darjeeling district. And their three main demands are: creation of a separate state, inclusion of Kamatapuri language in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution and propagation of Kamatapuri language and culture through All India Radio and Doordarshan.

In fact, the kpp movement for a separate state has gained momentum in the past three years.According to its president, Atul Roy, the Kamatapuris—known as Koch-Rajbongshis in the neighbouring areas of Assam, and who mainly inhabit the north Bengal areas—were never Bengalis. "We are ethnically different from the Bengalis. In fact, for three years after independence we were part of the Cooch Behar state till Bidhan Chandra Roy, the then chief minister of Bengal, hatched a conspiracy to merge this area with West Bengal in view of the rich natural resources available here."

Roy justifies the demand for a separate state with the usual spiel on "discrimination and apathy" by the West Bengal government in developing the area. "For 52 years, neither the Congress nor the Left Front governments bothered to take any steps in developing the area. No major industry has been set up here nor have people been given adequate opportunities for employment. Only a separate state would give us justice," Roy, an influential leader in the area, argues.

Intelligence officials point out that ulfa has its own interests while helping the klo. In fact, many say that it is to the advantage of the Assam-based outfit to set up bases in North Bengal. ulfa activists have already been using large areas in North Bengal as a transit point to go from Bhutan to Bangladesh and vice versa. At the same time, some militants have also crossed over to Nepal.

The klo has already started taking a leaf out of ulfa's training manual. Like ulfa in the late '80s, the klo has begun to target tea gardens in North Bengal to generate funds for its separatist activities. Security agencies, however, are keeping a close watch on the klo.

Senior police officials in North Bengal say that the banned National Socialist Council of Nagaland (nscn), arguably one of the most powerful insurgent groups in the northeast, also appears to be spreading its wings outside the region. They point out that two persons belonging to the nscn were killed in a four-hour encounter with the army in the Shamsingh forest in Darjeeling district on November 12. Intelligence sources in Siliguri say that they were part of an instructors' group that had travelled to Bengal to impart training in arms and handling explosives to the glo, a radical breakaway faction of the Subhash Ghisingh-led Gorkha National Liberation Front.

The glo, led by Chattre Subba, has apparently decided to take up arms to fight for a separate Gorkha state to be carved out of North Bengal areas. nscn instructors were reportedly running a camp for glo cadres for the past one month. nscn, known as the IM faction after its two main leaders Issac Chisi Swu and Th. Muivah, is currently observing a ceasefire with the Centre. The more than three-year-old truce is, however, in danger of breaking down with both sides accusing each other of treachery.

But this is not the first time that the nscn is imparting training to other smaller outfits. It has lent its expertise to several other groups in the northeast in the past and takes up training assignments with a two-fold objective—one, to generate funds for its activities (it levies training charges on a per-head basis) and two, to extend its area of influence so that during emergencies these areas could be used as shelters.

If the klo and glo are organisations that are still regarded as ineffective and fledgling, the activities of various isi-backed outfits is a major cause of worry to the authorities. The blast in a passenger train at New Jalpaiguri railway station at the height of the Kargil conflict last year has been attributed to such forces active in the region, adding to the tensions of the security forces.
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