Make this your homepage
Column
Home > Column
Decoding the 'The Agartala Doctrine'
Subir Bhaumik
Decoding the 'The Agartala Doctrine'
PHOTO : BBC former Eastern India bureau Chief Subir Bhaumik presenting 1st copy of 'Agartala Doctrine'to TIWN Editor Saumen Sarker

My good friend and senior Tripura bureaucrat Ashok Mangotra was pleasently surprised when I said my book is called 'Agartala Doctrine'.

' You think this is something like the Monroe Doctrine or Gujral Doctrine. but why call it Agartala Doctrine" , he said , somewhat aghast.
 
I told him it is a proposed national doctrine but draws heavily --rather solely -- on Tripura's long proactive history of handling its neighbourhood . So I call it the 'Agartala Doctrine'.
 
Itis not named after the man who propounded it -- Monroe was an American President , Gujral an Indian prime minister, I am just a Tripura boy who has done well in journalism and made some mark through my books on India's Northeast.  Humility is my strength , arrogance is what I hate , specially when people who display it without the capacity to hold it.
 
The idea of 'appropriate response' , as opposed to the one of neighborhood dominance propounded by Monroe Doctrine or unilateral magnanimity espoused by Gujral , has grown out of the line of action chosen by Tripura's leaders from Sachin Singh to Manik Sarkar.  There is a surprising continuity -- " You nice with me, I walk an extra mile to take care of you , but if are hostile, I will be doubly so "  is the simple peasent maxim on which it is based. 
 
Shorn of the academic mumbo-jumbo the bhadraloks inflict on the nation and end up confusing it, this is a doctrine that is capable of handling the policy confusion -- policy paralysis sometimes -- in Delhi on how to handle neighbors like Pakistan.
 
If you follow the Agartala doctrine,  Delhi has to follow a calibrated , nuanced policy of selective engagement --with Nawaz Sharif who risked his seat and was deposedin acoup for challenging the army, , with civil society. trade and commerce people, with educational institutions and the media. Do your 'Aman ki Asha' with them . But simultaneously pressurise the USto force the pakistan army to turn off the terror tap because they have leverage on the Raheel Sharifs and the Shuja Pashas .   And also develop covert action tohit Sargoadha if they have hit Pathankot and Karachi if they have hit Mumbai with non-state actors -- pay the the Pakistani militaryin the same coin and refuse to accept US-UK pressure to stay off covert action . 
 
What did Tripura's first CM Sachindralal Singh have in mind when he pushed Nehru and then Mrs Gandhi to back the Bengali struggle in East Pakistan. His Bengali sentiments was very much to the fore ever since Mujib had told him on a 1962 winter afternoon --Sachinda, we Bengalis cannot stay in Pakistan anymore. But he convinced Mrs Gandhi  that if Northeast had to be saved and the multiple Pak-China backed rebellions contained , the only way was to (use his words) 'klick Pakistan out of the East'. That paved the way for Indian support for the Bengali nationalist struggle and the ultimate Indian intervention to create Bangladesh.
 
Under Nripen Chakrabarty, the Tripura government not only kept alive the Chakma rebellion for tribal rights but also served as the backyyard of Bangladesh's democratic movement against military rule . Anyone threatened with arrest in Dhaka or Chittagong. Comilla or Sylhet found ready refuge in an Agartala safehouse .
 
Spool forward adecade . Wracked by a vicious tribal insurgency . CM Manik Sarkar resorted to an unusually hostile trans-border covert offensive , using surrendered militants and Bangladeshi mafioisi to neutralised the rebel bases inside Bangladesh between 2001-04. He still maintains a deniability -- he would rather Hasina for success in counter-insurgency . But Tripura's insurgency was finished in 2005 much before Hasina came to power. Since I was close to DGP G M Srivastava and his successor K Saleem Ali, I am privy to most of the operations the two , specially Srivastsava mounted . Unlike the chest thumping we saw after one hit on Manipur-Burma border , Tripura police backed by MI and BSF carried out more than 20 such strikes .
 
GM Srivatsava forced Nayanbashi to bring out his weapons -- or else the surrender would not be acceptable, he told Nayanbashi Jamatia during a secret meeting at my father-in-law Nirmal Majumder's house . When Nayan went to get his weapons in Mizoram, he quietly got one journalist to persuade Nayan's aides Buchuk  to syrrender with 137 guerrillas. When Nayan returned with the weapons, they were promptly siezed. Nayan cried betrayal and fled to Bangladesh. Apprehensive that Nayan might regroup, GM Srivatsava got a story planted in Bangladesh press that Nayan had gone back on RAW's orders to effect more NLFT surrenders. He was prmptly picked up by the DGFI , confiened for years and thrashed to smithreens. 
 
Rarely has a determined CM got a more determined police chief and an equally determined CS in Thulsidas . 
 
But now that Bangladesh is so friendly with Hasina in power , it is all hunky dory. The 'appropriate response' is evident in the way Manik sarkar got India to sell 100MW power fron Palatana after Hasina had helped by allowing oversized cargoes like transformer shipped through the Chittagong-Asuganj route.
 
You house our insurgents, we come for them , but if you allow us transhipment, we give you power. 
 
This policy will help transform Tripura into the gateway to Northeast and make it the new industry hub of Northeast, what with the IT gateway at Agartala now.
 
There is no element of attempted dominance like Monroe Doctrine , neither any unilateral magnanimity of Gujral.  Agartala Doctrine is all about reciprocity and it is the only way India can handle its difficult, sometimes volatile neigborhood. 
 
Culminating Tripura & Central Govt's aggresive and sustained trans-border hostile covert offensive using surrendered rebels and Dhaka mafiosi to hit separatist bases in  Bangladesh  --   to propound a national doctrine of 'appropriate response' that is totally different from both the American Monroe doctrine of neighborhood dominance and the Gujral doctrine of unilateral magnanimity.
The 'Agartala doctrine' is all about reciprocal action and offensive defence -- Khaleda Zia shelters Tripura insurgents who used BD bases to attack targets in Tripura, so the state police sends surrendered militants and Dhaka mafiosi (commissioned for hits) to attack rebel leaders in safehouses and bigger rebel camps, but later when PM Hasina is nice to us and provides us Chittagong port for transhipment of oversized cargoes for 726 MW Palatana gas-gired power plant, Chief Minister Manik Sarkar promptly promised to move Delhi for exporting 100-150 MW of electricity to power-starved Bangladesh.    
 
While my first book 'Insurgent Crossfire' offered a new insight into thestudy of post-colonial South Asian politics and diplomacy , in which reciprocal sponsorship of insurgency became a handy tool for nation-states, the 'Agartala doctrine' offers a new roadmap for India's neighborhood policy (differing from both US Monroe doctrine of neighborhood dominance and also India's Gujral doctrine of unilateral magnanimity ) , based as it is on how tiny state of Tripuira has handled the neighborhood -- first East Pakistan and then Bangladesh. This is no pacifist doctrine but also does not have room for over-reaction and macho interventionism. It calls for secret and deniable covert action in a offensive defence mode to counter security threats but places much emphasis on reciprocjating friendly gestures by walking the extra mile if necessary. It pitches for calibrated and carefully phased action rather than any headlong rushes like the IPKF intervention in Sri Lanka .
 
Book available at Flipcart.com or Amazon.com
( Subir Bhaumik is a veteran journalist, former BBC correspondant and author of  two well acclaimed books ‘Insurgent Crossfire’ and ‘Troubled Periphery’ )
https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gifTo send your appreciation and comments pl. send email to editor@tripurainfoway.com or tripurainfoway@gmail.com  or post online below.
Add your Comment
comments powered by Disqus
Comments (0)

Special Articles

Bhaskar Nandan Sarkar Bhaskar Nandan Sarkar
Amulya Ganguli Amulya Ganguli