He is North Bengal’s most dreaded separatist. His village roots for BJP

Jiban Singha is the chairman of the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation and the most dreaded separatist in North Bengal. The BJP wave has now reached his village in Kumargram, Alipurduar.

It is the month of Chaitra and groups of teenagers and young adults are out and about dressed as various deities. Most prominent among them is Lord Shiva. Charak Puja is just around the corner. Preparations are in full swing and these Charak groups are now visiting homes, going door to door to perform their skits and get rice, oil, honey, sugar, salt in return. The actual puja takes place on Chaitra Sankranti.

The Charak procession passes by, and the road to Kumargram is laid out in front of us. Kumargram is a constituency in the Alipurduar district of North Bengal. At times, the word ‘duar’ is added to ‘Kumargram’ because the area works as a duar to adjacent Bhutan – the door to Bhutan. This peaceful, calm village exterior doesn’t belie the bloody history of one of the most dreaded separatist organisations of North Bengal and Assam. The Uttar Haldibari village of Kumargram houses the ancestral home of Jiban Singha.

The ancestral home of Tamir Das, nom de guerre Jiban Singha, in Kumargram in Alipurduar. Photo: Author

But before we get to Jiban Singha, a few words about the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) that Jiban Singha is the chief of.

WHAT IS KAMTAPUR LIBERATION ORGANISATION?

KLO is a separatist group that started out when a faction of the Rajbongshi community could not take the neglect of the Kamtapuri language, people, and their large-scale alienation. KLO came into existence on December 28, 1995, when several members of the Koch-Rajbongshi community belonging to the All Kamtapur Students Union (AKSU) organised an armed struggle for liberation – their demand was separating the Kamtapur nation from the Indian mainland.

At Jiban Singha’s home in Kumargram. Photo: Author

The Kamtapur nation, KLO demanded, include 6 districts in West Bengal: Cooch Behar, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur, and Malda; 4 contiguous districts of Assam: Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Dhubri, and Goalpara; Bihar’s Kishanganj district; and the Jhapa district in Nepal. KLO was initially formed to address grassroots issues of the Rajbongshi people. But soon it took on the form of an armed struggle. The KLO was aided in its heydays by Assam’s ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam) who also wanted a route into Bhutan which the district of Alipurduar was perfect to provide.

The KLO today is most active in places like Alipurduar and Siliguri. Jiban Singha is the mysterious, elusive chief of the KLO.

WHO IS/WAS JIBAN SINGHA?

Born Tamir Das, Jiban Singha is the chief of the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation. He was doing his Masters in Siliguri when he became part of the KLO and swiftly rose in the ranks to become the Chief of the organisation. He married Bharati Das, who was the chairperson of the women’s wing of KLO. Jiban Singha was arrested in October 1999 but released by Assam Police soon after, in an attempt to make other KLO cadres surrender. Jiban Singha regained control of the outfit after he was released.

Tamir’s ancestral home in Kumargram’s Uttar Haldibari today lies in tatters. On the road, there are numerous saffron flags with the lotus blooming steady on them. Uttar Haldibari borders Assam, and to the North is Bhutan. When we stop at a village store and ask them for directions to the home of Jiban Singha – Tamir – he is still known by his real name here – there is a pregnant silence at first. Then a man points towards the unpaved road. He also says, “That man on the bicycle? He is Tamir’s older brother. He will take you to their home.”

We had expected that man on the bicycle to be as secretive about Tamir’s life as popular media would expect him to be. But 62-year-old Samir Das is a humble man of the soil. He takes us to the tin house that Tamir grew up in. It is dilapidated now. There are sacks and sacks of betelnuts on the mud verandah. There is a tulsi planted in the courtyard with a few diyas on the concrete platform.

A well stands diagonally opposite the house and the tin-door bathrooms are right next to it. A pair of ducks, white and spotted, break the afternoon silence with their quacks. Once upon a time, the silence at this house was broken by heavy police boots. Now they have stopped coming, says Samir Das.

It was the police who informed the Das family of Tamir’s wife Bharati’s death due to a stomach ailment. No one knew she had died. So, the police performed her last rites and then informed her husband’s family. Back home in Kumargram, the Das family wasn’t even aware of Tamir’s marriage or the two kids he had with Bharati. “I last saw him when he was in high school. That was about 30 years ago. Their kids stay with Bharati’s family,” Samir Das tells us.

A STRONG SAFFRON SURGE

Now it is the poll season and our conversation inevitably moves to the inevitable question: what is the mood in Uttar Haldibari? Samir Das’s response is quite nonchalant. “Our boy is contesting the elections on a BJP ticket, after all.” Manoj Oraon is the BJP candidate fighting against Leos Kujur (ex-BJP) from TMC on this ST (Scheduled Tribe) seat. But this village is still sympathetic to the Kamtapur cause. How did the BJP wave reach here?

Outside Tamir Das’s house, his nephew now works in the betelnut industry. Photo: Author

Samir Das tells us the sentiment this election is with the saffron challenger in this village. He has not received a job or a penny from the ruling Trinamool government because his brother is Jiban Singha. So where is Jiban Singha now? Does he come home to this Kumargram house? “We don’t know. I have not seen him since he was in high school. Some people say he has died. Some say he is in Bhutan. There are occasional reports that he has escaped to Myanmar and is doing quite well there. But who knows,” says Das.

The mystery of Jiban Singha has endured the test of time but the people of Uttar Haldibari are not as kind to memory. From home after tin-shed home, young boys now say the vote here is for the BJP. This also includes Tamir’s own nephew Abhishek. The boy is 22 years old. Dressed in a black T-shirt and bermuda shorts, he is sitting with his family and neighbours from the village to separate betelnut out of its shell. O Re Grihobashi, Khol Daar Khol plays on his Chinese mobile phone as he tells us that this side ‘is all BJP’. The BJP has penetrated the home of North Bengal’s most dreaded separatist.

Abhishek’s words are somehow reminiscent of JP Nadda’s from a recent India Today interview: “The BJP will unify all nationalist forces.” Separatist forces too? Kumargram will answer on May 2.

Leave a Comment