Spirit of democracy triumphs over militants’ guns

Agartala, April 22 (Inditop) His life was shattered by terrorists’ bullets, but that is not going to stop Amar Ranjan Shil from casting his first vote.

The 18-year-old was the only survivor when militants from the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) massacred 13 people, including the rest of his family, at Khas Kylanpur village in western Tripura, 85 km from state capital Agartala.

The massacre of April 15, 2000 “destroyed my dream to be a happy citizen, but I am very thrilled that I will now cast my vote for the first time in my life,” Amar Ranjan, now a student of class 12, told IANS.

Around 44,250 youths in Tripura are eligible to exercise their franchise for the first time Thursday when elections for the state’s two Lok Sabha seats is held.

Come elections and militant groups in northeastern India step up their activities. Amar Ranjan’s family was massacred a few days before a local poll.

Villagers of western Tripura’s Satchari and Moharchara villages are also firm on casting their ballots Thursday. Guerrillas of NLFT and All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) had mowed down 33 people, including women and children, in a midnight strike on May 7, 2003 in the two villages bordering Bangladesh.

“Definitely I will cast my vote. This is my right. Otherwise the killers will succeed,” said septuagenarian Haradhan Sarkar, who lost his wife and two sons in the massacre.

An agitated Sarkar told IANS: “Killing infants, raping women and looting our properties … what independence do they (the separatist outfits) want?”

NLFT militants also massacred 11 non-tribals including women and children at Mandai Choumuhani village, 30 km north of Agartala in West Tripura district, on the night of Republic Day celebration in 2003.

“Despite militants’ threat I have been casting my vote for the past three decades and this time too I will do so to elect a government and to crush the ultras,” said Rabindra Debbarma, a 65-year-old tribal villager in Mandai.

According to a report by the central home ministry, 22 militant outfits are operating in Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland and Mizoram, with demands ranging from autonomy to secession. Of them, 13 groups have been declared ‘unlawful associations’.

Most people in Tripura still remember that day in February 1988, three days before polls to the state assembly, when militants killed around 100 people across the state. Still, it did not keep voters away from the polling stations.

Chief Minister Manik Sarkar told IANS he was sure “our people, both tribals and non-tribals, are determined to eliminate militancy”.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s Harendra Pratap Singh, who is in charge of the campaign in the northeast, had a different take. “The outlawed rebels even sometimes work for the political parties and candidates,” he said.

But “now the tribals have revolted against the tribal guerillas, who have been eliminated from most parts the northeastern states”, said Rampada Jamatia, a tribal leader of the Jamatia Hoda, a community based NGO working to curb militancy and maintain peace.

Senior Congress leader Tapas Dey, a former legislator, said: “The ethnic militancy that began two-and-a-half decades ago, ostensibly to reclaim Tripura for the once-majority tribal population, has now clearly degenerated into mindless killing of people.”

Tripura made electoral history when a record 93 percent votes were cast in last year’s election to the 60-seat state assembly. Tribals and non-tribals including those in militancy-ravaged areas cast their ballots even after midnight in that poll.