Subir Bhaumik, Bangalore (Apr 7): Somewhere on the outskirts of Bangalore, a flame from Bangladesh’s embattled Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is still burning.
Priti Kumar Chakma, who once advocated merger of the Chittagong Hill Tracts with India, had bid farewell to arms over two decades ago when India’s external intelligence R&AW forced him to call it day and leave the field open for the Larma faction, that later signed an agreement with Dhaka in 1997 to end the two decade old bushwar that started in 1975.
Priti Kumar Chakma is in no mood to go back home because “nothing is working there to our advantage”.
“Our indigenous tribes people are being reduced to a decisive minority by the government’s resettlement programme that continues unabated. And the political groups representing us are ineffective and that includes the Parbattya Chattogram Jansanghati Samity (PCJSS) that we had built up,” says Priti Kumar Chakma.
Priti Kumar led the ‘Bati’ (short) faction of the PCJSS — so called because he advocated a sharp guerrilla war followed by decisive Indian intervention to bring Chittagong Hill Tracts within India. Opposed to him were the Larma brothers, Manabendra Narayan alias Probahon and Jyotindra Boddhiprio alias Santu.
They led the ‘Lamba’ (long) faction of PCJSS, because they advocated a long-term protracted Maoist style guerilla struggle for extensive provincial autonomy, as opposed to Priti Kumar’s line of separation followed by merger. In short, Priti Kumar was CHT’s Geelani, if the Larmas can be compared to the Maliks and Lones of Kashmir.
But strangely, after factional fighting erupted between the two factions in 1982, the R&AW supported the Larma brothers and not the strongly pro-Indian Priti Kumar. Later in the decade, the two groups were brought to be table and R&AW brokered a peace deal between them, under which the Priti group was declared the ‘Niskriyo’ (inactive) group and asked to give up arms. As a sequel, most of the fighters loyal to Priti Kumar went back to Bangladesh and surrendered.
Almost 25 years later, Priti Kumar only reluctantly accepts the realities in CHT. “I know we have lost out and the PCJSS must take the blame for that. But now I am no longer in the thick of things and what I can do,” says Priti Kumar. In 1983, Priti Kumar organised the massacre of over 300 Muslim resettlers at Chotoharina, Gorosthan and Bhusancherra. His aim was to create a panic amongst these government-settled landhungry Muslim peasants to drive them away from the CHT, so that they stopped encroaching on tribal lands.
“That would have secured the free movement of our guerrilla force and help us in area domination that is so important for insurgency. Most importantly, it would have also saved our tribes people from being overwhelmed demographically,” said Priti Kumar. But the PCJSS decided otherwise because the left-minded Larma brothers saw in these settlers a ‘part of Bangladesh’s proletariat’, they thought should not be attacked.
Later, Santu Larma also ordered similar attacks in late 1980s but by then it was too late and the resettler colonies had taken roots all over CHT. Now, the Muslim resettlers are almost 47 per cent of CHT’s population, up from only 2 per cent in 1947. For Priti Kumar, the battle is as good as lost. His only satisfaction: he can live in his adopted home with his two engineer sons, in a land he revers and once wanted his ancestral CHT to be merged with. The Chakmas had resisted incorporation of CHT in Pakistan in 1947 and had flown the Indian flag over their Rajbari (royal palace) in Rangamati. But India turned its back on them, mainly because Nehru was not interested in altering the Radcliffe offer for the East.
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