A Dirty Game to Protect Killers of Tripura Journalist

WITH an eye on the 2018 Tripura assembly polls, the IPFT(NC) has mounted numerous attacks on left and progressive forces in the state. Since its efforts to disrupt a rally of the Ganamukti Parishad (GMP) in Agartala on September 19, the IPFT has intensified its attacks. While CPI(M) workers managed to resist most of these attacks with the help of the people, progressive-minded journalist Shantanu Bhowmik was brutally killed by IPFT miscreants in Mandai in West Tripura on September 20.

Since morning on September 20, IPFT miscreants started a road-blockade on the outskirts of Mandai township of Jirania subdivision in West Tripura, alleging that their flags were torn. Mandai is a new township surrounded by tribal villages. The IPFT threatened to shut all offices, schools and even block offices. They tried to snatch the camera from Bhowmik, who was covering the protest. The police imposed prohibitory orders under CrPC Section 144 and asked the IPFT activists to disperse. Police even resorted to mild lathi-charge to disperse the mob. While fleeing from the protest site, some IPFT miscreants dragged away Bhowmik. He was attacked with sharp-edged weapons. The police later found a critically injured Bhowmik and sent him to the GB Hospital where doctors declared him brought dead. Bhowmik was known to the killers as he was a resident of the locality and he earned their wrath because his reporting for ‘Din-Raat’ channel always went against their demand for a separate ‘Twipraland’. Around the same time, another gang of hooligans tried to attack the CPI(M) office in Mandai Market where they were resisted by party workers.

On September 21, in Khumulwng, the headquarters of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC), the IPFT tried to spark communal frenzy against Bengalis by spreading rumours. IPFT activists attacked the CPI(M) office there. Police clamped prohibitory orders and Assam Rifles and Tripura State Rifles forces were deployed in the area to tackle the situation. IPFT goondas tried to attack two senior police officers – an IG and a DIG -- in Khumulwng. Their attempt, however, was foiled by the local police. They were selectively allowing tribal employees to go the ADC office and pushing back the non-tribal workers under coercion. On the same day, a Muslim driver was stabbed and another driver belonging to the Bengali community went missing. In other parts of Khowai, Teliamura and Mohanpur, several stray incidents of attacks by the IPFT goondas were reported. Evidently, all these attacks are aimed at sparking ethnic flare up and set in a complete lawlessness in the state.

The killing of a young journalist spread shockwaves all through the state. On September 21, almost all local newspapers and electronic media gave a wide coverage of the murder, holding IPFT responsible for it. Political parties, except for the IPFT, and many organisations condemned this murder and urged the government to urgently book the killers. The chief minister and the information minister in separate statements condemned the murder.  The CPI(M) Jirania subdivisional committee called an eight-hour bandh in the subdivision the next day.

A delegation of journalists to the police chief demanded arrest of IPFT leaders including Narendra Debbarma and Meber Kumar Jamatia. Thereafter, they organised a dharna near the official residence of the chief minister with the same demand. Later, a four-member delegation met the chief minister at his office. The chief minister assured them of a proper inquiry into the case. The next day, a silent procession was called by the Agartala Press Club and the Working Journalists Association in condemnation of this murder. The organisers also urged all sections of the people to join their procession. Accordingly, leaders of political parties including BJP, Congress and CPI(M) joined the silent procession. The IPFT stayed away.

Apprehending that the crime committed by the IPFT would not spare the BJP from the popular wrath because of its hobnobbing and undeclared electoral alliance with the later, a section of BJP’s pet print and electronic media appeared in the scene for damage repairing. Expressing distrust over the Agartala Press Club, several journalist associations and even the state police investigation, they started demanding a CBI probe into the murder, in line with the demand raised by the BJP. Evidently, the demand for a CBI probe is aimed at keeping up the sagging morale of IPFT perpetrators and the BJP-IPFT nexus. Most ridiculously, some pet media of the BJP alleged that the state cabinet showed disregard to Bhowmik by not including the issue in the agenda of the cabinet meeting. They are dishing out misleading reports about the incident to divert the course of the investigation. Setting aside all journalistic ethics, the BJP’s pet media has even started arguing innocence of the IPFT miscreants arrested in this case.

In the meantime, the Agartala Press Club and several journalist associations demanded constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the case. The government is considering their demand. The police have arrested four IPFT workers in connection with the murder.

The manner of CBI investigation is well known to the people of Tripura. At least four cases of the state were investigated by the CBI. One of such cases was the BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate Shyamhari Debbarma murder case in 1989. It was Congress-TUJS coalition regime in the state then. The most discredited Congress-led coalition government needed to stall the election to avoid a shameful defeat in the election. And it was achieved through the murder of Shyamhari Debbarma. The murder was committed in broad day light on the dais of an election rally before hundreds of people. While the meeting was in progress, a small vehicle approached near the dais. In front a gathering of hundreds, the killers got down from the car, sprang up to the dais and butchered Shyamhari and escaped with the same vehicle. The case was handed over to the CBI which had made several visits to Agartala. Showing a mockery of investigation, instead of filing charge-sheet, they submitted a final report. The people of Tripura have strong reason to believe that at the diktat of the then Congress government in Delhi, the CBI acted only to serve the Congress from being stained of planning this desperate and heinous murder.

Other two cases investigated by the CBI were the murders of Congress leader Debal Deb and Congress MLA Madhusudhan Saha in 2001. The fate of the investigation in these cases were also not different from the case of Shyamhari. These cases were also believed to be hushed up by the CBI at the instances of the Congress government at the Centre to hide the factionalism in the Congress leadership.

The only case the CBI could succeed in filing charge sheet was a forgery case in allotment of medical seats, in which the then Congress Chief Minister Sudhir Ranjan Majumder, state’s Health Minister Kashiram Reang and several government officials were involved. Because of the evidence like official documents, the CBI was compelled to frame charge sheet against the accused and the case ended with punishment for them, though the chief minister and the health minister died before conviction.

Though the CBI deserves credit of solving many criminal and financial corruption cases in the country, the people have reason to believe that this highest investigating agency of the country acts as a pawn at the hands of the ruling party at the centre to serve its political interest. While the state police have already made a breakthrough in the journalist murder case, the BJP raised the demand for a CBI inquiry only to save the killers, it is believed.

The democratic-minded, peace-loving and harmonious people of Tripura would not spare space for an unholy alliance of communal BJP and IPFT, an agent of divisive NLFT extremist. The people of Tripura have taken a vow to maintain peace and stability, protect ethnic and communal harmony at any cost from the onslaughts of this unholy alliance. 

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