Unlike the Monroe or the Gujral doctrine, this is a doctrine not named after a person espousing it. It is named after a small state capital town, Agartala, which former Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni describes as the “war capital of the Bangali nation”.
The Agartala doctrine is a proposed national doctrine that draws on Tripura’s long proactive history of handling its neighbourhood.
It is not named after the man who propounded it – Monroe was an American President, Gujral an Indian prime minister. I am a small town boy from Tripura but I am proud of our leaders from Sachin Singh to Manik Sarkar who have provided the country with a bright example of tackling the neighborhood through quiet decisive action, so far apart from the chest thumping saffronite triumphalism one gets to see these days.
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 be nice with me, I walk an extra mile to take care of you, but if you are hostile, I will be doubly so” – is the simple peasant maxim on which it is based.
Shorn of the academic mumbo-jumbo the civil society 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 neighbours 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 deposed in a coup 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 US to force the Pakistan army to turn off the terror tap because they have leverage on the Raheel Sharifs and the Shuja Pashas. At the same time, develop covert action to hit Sargodha if they have hit Pathankot, and Karachi if they have hit Mumbai. Pay the Pakistani military in their own 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 were very much to the fore ever since Mujib had told him on a 1962 winter afternoon – “Sachinda, we Bengalis cannot stay in Pakistan anymore”. He convinced Mrs. Gandhi that if the Northeast had to be saved and the multiple Pak-China backed rebellions contained, the only way was to (use his words) ‘kick Pakistan out of the East’. This paved the way for Indian support for the Bengali nationalist struggle and the ultimate Indian intervention to create Bangladesh.
Spool forward two decades. 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 neutralise the rebel bases inside Bangladesh between 2001-04. He still maintains a deniability – he would rather credit all his counter-insurgency success to Bangladesh’s cooperation after Sheikh Hasina took over as Prime Minister.
Rarely has a determined CM got a more determined Police Chief, and an equally determined CS in Thulsidas made up a deadly team. Here was a small state fighting back on its own, using surrendered rebels and Bangladesh mafiosi. Not only did the Bangladesh authorities fail to get a wind of it, even Delhi was not told what Tripura police was doing. GM Srivastava would often say surprise was vital and could not be achieved if either Dhaka or Delhi came to know.
But now that Bangladesh is so friendly with Sheikh Hasina in power, it is all hunky dory. The “appropriate response” is evident in the way Manik Sarkar got India to sell 100 MW power fron Palatana after Hasina had helped by allowing over-sized cargoes like transformer ship through the Chittagong-Asuganj route. It is always give and take and Bangladesh has no stronger advocate of its interests in India than the shy Tripura Chief MInister.
In Agartala doctrine, there is no place for bullying a smaller neighbour or attempted dominance like the Monroe Doctrine, nor the unilateral magnanimity of the Gujral doctrine. Agartala Doctrine is all about reciprocity and it is the only way India can handle its difficult, sometimes volatile neighbourhood.