The Hilly Road to Peace
A decade after the signing of the historic treaty,
peace in the hills remains a mirage
Last week marks a significant development in the beleaguered history of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (JSS), which, before the 1997 Peace Accord, launched an armed guerrilla insurgency against the state, has been split into two for the second time. In 1983, the group faced a major crisis when an ideological debate raged through the party over long and short-term priorities. That year, Manabendra Narayan Larma, one of the founders of the PCJSS, was murdered by the Priti faction of the party, which was advocating the badi (Chakma for long term) formula.
In the eighties, the JSS and its armed wing the Shanti Bahini faced another big blow when a large number of its cadres laid down their arms under the leadership of 'Major Romel'. The party had to grapple with another tremor in 1997 when leaders of Pahari Chatra Parishad, unofficial student wing of the JSS, rejected the CHT peace treaty and formed their own United People's Democratic front (UPDF).
However, last week's split is significant on many counts. This is for the first time in the party's history that the leadership has faced allegations of terrorism and undemocratic behaviour from within. And they have come from big guns of CHT politics: Rupayan Dewan (one of the three major leaders of the JSS), Sudha Sindhu Khisa (another JSS stalwart) and Tatindra Lal Chakma (who used to go by 'Major' Peley, his nom de guerre from the days of insurgency). In a council held in the remote village of Boradom in Khagrachari, the leaders termed the 9th council of the party held in Rangamati illegal. The Rangamati meet re-elected insurgent-turned politician Shantu Larma as the President of the JSS.
Peley has said that Shantu's leadership has failed to live up to the expectations of the ethnic people of the CHT. "A decade has passed since the signing of the peace treaty, yet he has never sat with the sincere and dedicated leaders and workers of the party. We are disappointed in his leadership," he says. Larma could not be contacted, but Larma-led JSS sources have rejected the allegations, calling Peley's diatribes unfounded and baseless.
Peley also accuses Shantu of being an autocrat. "Anyone who disputes with his order meets with repression by his cadres," Peley says. He says that after the incidents of Baghaichari and Khagrachari, Shantu has never visited the victims and in the 9th council of the party he has handpicked his own people as central leaders.
There is no doubt that since the signing of the peace treaty CHT is faced with stagnancy in the leadership. Shantu Larma, charismatic though he was as a guerrilla leader, is increasingly finding it difficult to live up to the expectations that the CHT in the new decade has thrown at him. After the Baghaichari incident, the UPDF, which denounces the peace treaty as a sell off, has gained a significant foothold in Rangamati. The young leaders of the UPDF, through their angry rhetoric have been successful in attracting the young Turks, who have remained disgruntled as the implementation of the peace process remains a distant dream.
As always, the CHT is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea: a weak Shantu will be bad for democracy and peace in the hills, and an undemocratic JSS led by an unpopular leadership will be even worse.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010