A Minister killed in Tripura

Published : Apr 11, 1998 00:00 IST

The killing of Tripura Health Minister Bimal Sinha by the outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura is a reflection of the seriousness of the terrorist threat in the northeastern region.

ON March 31, Tripura's Health and Urban Development Minister and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Bimal Sinha and his younger brother Bidyut Sinha were gunned down by the militants of the outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT).

The Minister and his brother walked into a trap set by the NLFT. The extremists had offered to release the Minister's adopted brother Bikram Sinha, a contractor of Kamalpur whom they had abducted, and had asked the Minister to come without his guards to a place near Avanga on the Ambassa-Kamalpur road in north Tripura. Accordingly, Bimal Sinha left his car and security personnel behind at Avanga and, along with Bidyut Sinha and a local Congress(I) leader, walked towards the Dhalai river. About 20 NLFT militants who were waiting on the river bank opened fire on the Minister and his brother from close range. The two died on the spot. The security personnel rushed to the spot but it was too late.

Bikram Sinha was kidnapped on February 9, before the elections to the State Assembly in which the CPI(M) was returned to power. Official sources said that there had been no demand for ransom. Bikram Sinha was not a member of the CPI(M).

A statement issued by the State Secretariat of the CPI(M) said that 49-year-old Bimal Sinha was a victim of a "deep-seated" conspiracy. He had apparently been targeted because he was popular among the tribal people of Kamalpur and had organised them to resist the NLFT's campaign of violence; he was elected to the Assembly consecutively for five times from Kamalpur. (In the recent Assembly elections, he campaigned against a poll boycott call given by the militants and went on to win in Kamalpur.) Bimal Sinha was known to have had strained relations with a Congress(I) leader in Kamalpur who is alleged to have links with the NLFT. CPI(M) sources said that Bikram Sinha may have been kidnapped so that the militants could get at Bimal Sinha.

Bimal Sinha entered politics during the students' movement in 1967-68. As a general secretary of a college union that was controlled by the Students Federation of India (SFI), he came in contact with Marxist leader Nripen Chakraborty, who shaped his views and groomed him politically. A member of the CPI(M) since 1970, Bimal Sinha became a member of the party's State Committee in 1978. He later became Deputy Speaker and then Speaker of the Assembly. A poet and novelist, he directed a Kokborok-language film, Longthorai. Based on one of his five novels, the film deals with the life of the tribal people in the Longthorai hills.

In 1984, when Bimal Sinha was Deputy Speaker of the Assembly, militants of the Tripura National Volunteers (TNV) attempted to ambush his vehicle near the Baramura hill range.

In the past six years, Bimal Sinha, who was vice-president of the State unit of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), had attempted to organise mass resistance against militancy in areas inhabited by tribal people. The TNV later renounced violence and joined mainstream politics to participate in elections as an ally of the Congress(I).

Bimal Sinha had on several occasions been cautioned by the security forces against venturing into areas where the militants operated, but he continued to move around in those areas as part of his efforts to organise the tribal people. He helped secure the release of senior CPI(M) leaders in Kamalpur, including Ranjit Ghose, who had been kidnapped by the NLFT in October last year. While he was negotiating with the extremists to secure Ghose's release, Bimal Sinha was targeted again. Ghose was released after 10 days in captivity.

In his attempt to secure Bikram Sinha's release, Bimal Sinha contacted some overground collaborators of the NLFT, including a few local Congress(I) leaders. Reports published in the CPI(M)'s Bengali-language newspapers Ganashakti (from Calcutta) and Desher Katha (from Agartala) alleged that some local Congress(I) leaders were directly involved in the conspiracy to kill Bimal Sinha. The reports named a few Congress(I) functionaries in this regard.

AT 10 a.m. on March 31, Bidyut Sinha, a schoolteacher, informed Bimal Sinha over the telephone that a local Congress(I) leader had told him to go to the Samthung crossing across the Dhalai to secure Bikram Sinha's release. Bimal Sinha and Bidyut Sinha rushed to Avanga. There they went to the house of a Congress(I) activist who is alleged to have links with the NLFT. The Minister and his brother were told that Bikram Sinha was waiting on the bank of the Dhalai but that they should proceed there without security personnel. Accordingly, Bimal Sinha directed his bodyguards to stay back. The local Congress(I) leader accompanied the two to the river bank, where Bimal Sinha met two armed NLFT militants. He asked them about Bikram Sinha's whereabouts and was told that he was in the jungles across the river. Sensing trouble, Bimal Sinha refused to go further. As he turned back, about 20 militants who had been hiding in the bushes opened fire. As Bidyut Sinha fell dead, the Minister tried to take cover - in vain.

Police sources said that about a week before he was killed, Bimal Sinha had sent the local Congress(I) leader Rs.1.7 lakhs to be paid to the NLFT as ransom for the release of Bikram Sinha.

THE NLFT was formed in 1991 under the leadership of Dhananjay Reang. The outfit was blacklisted after it carried out a series of violent attacks on non-tribal people. Reang was ousted following a revolt in 1994. In recent months, the NLFT stepped up attacks on unarmed non-tribal people; in this it appears to have joined the ranks of the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), another banned organisation which targets non-tribal people.

The fact that an armed bunch of people could strike with impunity at a State Minister is a reflection of the seriousness of the terrorist threat in parts of the northeastern region. the kidnapping of MLAs or the relatives of prominent politicians by insurgents has become common in Tripura. There have been counter-insurgency operations but these have not had much success, as the few offensives by militants after the recent elections showed. On March 20, the ATTF gunned down Major Santosh Pravakar and Naik Khot Shivajee Tukaram in an ambush. Two days later the NLFT killed six jawans of the Tripura State Rifles at Dhoopcherra in Khowai subdivision.

A 24-hour Statewide bandh was called on April 1 to protest against the killing of Bimal Sinha. It evoked a total response.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, in a message condemning the killing, said violence had no place in a civilised society. In a message to the Tripura Government, West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu condemned the murder and expressed concern over the rise of secessionist and extremist forces in Tripura.

Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar requested Union Home Minister L.K. Advani to send adequate security forces to Tripura. It was decided that 22 companies of the Central Reserve Police Force, which were withdrawn from the State last month for election duty in Jammu and Kashmir, would be sent back to the State.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment