Wednesday, January 26, 2011

India Backed Shanti Bahini, Burmese Rebels: Book

Indira Gandhi was voted out of power in 1977, just when India's external intelligence organisation, R&AW, was preparing to substantially step up its backing for the Shanti Bahini, says Subir Bhaumik in his just-released book "Troubled Periphery:Crisis of India's Northeast".

Bhaumik, a journalist and academic researcher for three decades, has provided graphic details of the R&AW's involvement in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and Burma's Kachin Hills in his latest book. But he makes it clear the "orders came right from the top" and were not operations generated by the agency.

"The immediate provocation for the Indian sponsorship of the Shanti Bahini guerrillas .. was the military coup that killed Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and many members of his family. To Indira gandhi, this coup was a political defiance of India .

"Within a week of the coup, senior R&AW leaders arrived in Tripura's capital Agartala with a clear brief for their subordinates: Get
those Chakma leaders who want to fight Bangladesh."

Bhaumik's findings is based on detailed interviews of Shanti Bahini guerrilla commanders and R&AW officials and the book is replete with such references.

One Shanti Bahini leader tells Bhaumik about the quality of Indian training.

"The Indian training was intensive and tough as the instructors had served with military units in Nagaland and Mizoram. The leadership element of the course was gruelling and involved war games and dummy attacks.

"The instructors would observe how we went about the attack and whether we had absorbed the theoretical lessons. They would severely admonish us if we were found lacking. They always reminded us of the maxim that you bleed less in war if you train well in peace."

Indira Gandhi's election defeat in 1977 saved Bangladesh, then grappling with mutinies and domestic unrest, from huge trouble, suggests Bhaumik.

"Just when the Shanti Bahini were told to prepare for the big push forward and that India would support a strength of 15000 guerrillas came the news of Mrs Gandhi's election debacle and the Congress defeat...

"It is not clear how far Mrs Gandhi wanted to go and it is possible that, after the liberation of Bangladesh, she could see the value of a successful foreign campaign could boost her dropping popularity back home.

"But her defeat changed the course of events . The R&AW plans to intensify the guerrilla war in Chittagong Hill
Tracts were put on hold when Morarji Desai took over as Prime Minister. The R&AW topbrass were categorically told to lay off from CHT."

Bhaumik's book says the support to Shanti Bahini was resumed when Mrs Gandhi came back to power--but by then, the Bahini was in the throes of a fratricidal war that led to the assasination of its chief M N Larma.

It says that R&AW's Agartala station chief at that time, Parimal Ghosh even resolved this fratricidal conflict by drafting an agreement between the two Shanti Bahini factions.

Ghosh in 1971 was close to General (then Major) Ziaur Rahman and operated under his pseudonym Captain Hossain Ali.

As a BSF officer, he fought at the Shuvapur bridge with the Mukti Fauj.

Bhaumik also details how the R&AW won over the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and started giving them weapons -- just to ensure they would not back any Northeast Indian rebel groups anymore.

The man instrumental in this operation was one of the most successful R&AW operatives , B.B.Nandi, who had also served as their station chief in Dhaka.

During Nandi's tenure as station chief at Bangkok, he developed close links with the Burmese underground groups, specially the Kachins.

Bhaumik says that Nandi even planted a R&AW communications team at the KIA headquarters in the early 1990s, from where they monitored the China-bound movements of the northeast Indian rebels .

After retirement, Nandi became a fierce critic of the R&AW and the Indian government when Delhi started befriending Burma's military junta and the BNP-Jamaat combine in Dhaka.

Bhaumik's book , published by Sage, details the major issues of conflict in northeast India -- land,language, leadership, ethnicity, ideology , religion -- and offers a policy framework for resolving the crisis.

It says the region suffers from severe "democracy and development deficit" and argues that a secular and democratic Bangladesh and a truly federal and democratic Burma is crucial to the stability of India's Northeast.