By Our Correspondent, TNT News | TURA, Dec 31, 2017:
After struggling for over two decades with militancy and the terror associated with it, the Garo Hills region saw a period of relative calm with no major incidents related to militancy taking place this year.
The year began with demonetization dealing a crushing blow to the coffers of the GNLA. While the move of the BJP government may have had adverse effects on the economy, demonetization dealt a deadly blow to militant group which could be gauged from the reduction in militant activities as well as the number of surrenders of militants, including the dreaded Reding T Sangma of ASAK.
The surrender of Reding helped South Garo Hills attain peace as the number of cases of kidnappings decreased. ASAK had become a menace to the district with many businessmen and vendors dreading going to the district to conduct business. He surrendered along with 7 other members of his group on March this year.
Demonetization literally crushed the viability of militancy with the earned blood money becoming mere paper in the hands of the GNLA and other outfits. The desperation of the outfit could be gauged from the many attempts of the GNLA to convert its demonetized notes into legal currency, leading to arrests of quite a few over ground workers of the outfit.
The GNLA, however, continued to be the biggest militant group in the area though their area of influence over the years has reduced, concentrated mainly between the districts of South Garo Hills and West Khasi Hills. The commander of the outfit, Sohan D Shira, however, remained elusive despite many attempts by the police to nab him.
The GNLA through the year, however, kept losing personnel, most of who surrendered to the police leaving the outfit with very few trained cadres. The outfit for the first time in years has been reduced to double digits in terms of numbers, with surrendered cadres of the outfit putting the number at about 20, most of whom were with Shira himself. The GNLA commander was also able to escape all the encounters between the police and his outfit (almost 10 such encounters).
“The outfit has very few personnel, most of who are currently untrained. The GNLA modus operandi over the years has been to go to villages and on the excuse of showing the way getting people to join them. They are never happy with the outfit and just wait for an opportunity to get out,” said superintendent of police, SGH – Abraham T Sangma.
The police put the strength of the outfit at about 20 and said that increased police operations had ensured the outfit was unable to regroup while stating that a few ULFA – Independent leaders were now the base of the outfit.
“Without the support of ULFA leaders like Dristhi Rajkhowa, the outfit will be reduced to about 5 trained cadres. They have been pushed back and most cadres are now looking for ways to get out of the GNLA,” added a police source.
The growth of Special Force – 10 has been another reason for the decline in militancy this year with concentrated operations leading to quite a few encounters.
“The surrender of some of the top militants, including Bryan Sim Marak (former publicity secretary) and Baltush among others has dealt a huge blow to militancy. Moreover, criminal groups too are finding out that militancy is not that lucrative anymore,” added Sangma.
Another aspect to the entire equation that comes about is the fact that unlike the last elections, the militant groups are not expected to play much of a role in the coming elections in 2018. The previous elections had been fraught with many allegations of the GNLA influencing voters through the barrel of a gun to vote for particular candidates.