Guns and brickbats

By Rabi Banerjee
Story Dated: Saturday, September 1, 2012 13:24 hrs IST
Chief Minister Gogoi is being compared to Narendra Modi
Noor Haque, 45, is a rich farmer from Gossaigaon in the riot-hit Kokrajhar district of lower Assam. Bodo leaders called him an illegal migrant from Bangladesh, beat him up and expelled him from his village. Noor says that he has never been to Bangladesh and that his father came from West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district in the fifties.

“I have never seen Bangladesh. Yet, I am branded a Bangladeshi by the Bodo leaders who rule us,” said Noor. He and family were among the 5,000 people who have been displaced after the riots in the lower part of Assam.
When the government said it was trying to send the displaced people back to their homes, Noor tried to re-enter his village. But Bodo militants stopped him and threatened him with dire consequences if he ever returned to the village. “Where are the government’s military and paramilitary forces?” asked Noor. “We have heard of them only in newspapers. They are not visible.” Even a month after the riots, the Army, the paramilitary forces and the militants can hardly be differentiated, as the militants wear battle fatigues.
People living in relief camps dream of returning to their villages and the comfort of their homes, but wonder when or how they can restart their lives. “Now, we have to start life from scratch. Suicide is the other option,” said Abdul Barick, another farmer of Gossaigaon’s Purbo Para. Rioters destroyed and looted everything he had—his home, property, cattle and gold—and he saw them shoot two of his neighbours when they tried to return to their village. All the while, the Army was a mute spectator. “The Army told us they were helpless and had no powers to take action,” he said.
A unified command, including the Border Security Force and Central Reserve Police Force, led by the Army is stationed in Kokrajhar. But, it has been kept inactive.
The involvement of the Bodoland Territorial Council in the massacre was evident after the arrest of legislator Pradeep Brahma of the Bodoland People’s Front. More MLAs are under the scanner as the council allegedly made the local police and administration inactive and allowed the Bodo Liberation Tigers to ravage the Muslim-dominated areas in the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts.
“It is true that they were granted a separate autonomous council. But does it mean that we don’t have any right to stay in the area and enjoy our right to property?” asked a trader, who now stays in a relief camp in Dhubri.
The displaced villagers said the alliance between the Bodo party and the Congress was the main reason for government’s inaction.
“The people who killed our people, burnt our houses and made us homeless are the major ally of the ruling party,” said Mohd Bahesh Ali, another rich farmer, at the relief camp in Dhubri.
The Congress defended its alliance with the Bodo party, though it denied that the government was protecting the alliance at the expense of the others. “The Bodo party has been our valued ally for many years. And, we treasure the alliance. The situation in Kokrajhar will not have any impact on our alliance,” Congress vice-president Y.L. Karna told THE WEEK.
Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi is being likened to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who had allegedly slowed down the state machinery during the 2002 communal riots in his state. Gogoi, too, has been accused of not taking timely action, thus escalating the problem. His alliance with the Bodo party goes back to 2006, when 11 MLAs of the Bodoland People’s Front propped up his minority government. Though Gogoi got a simple majority in the 2011 elections, he took the Bodo party along. But now, he is in a spot. The Kokrajhar violence has threatened his relation with the tribal party. In the midst of it all, the chief minister had to face huge waves of Assamese people, most of them, students and workers, returning in panic over hate crimes against them in southern and western India.
While the opposition criticised the government for not employing the Army and paramilitary against the rioters, Karna admitted that the Army was not given full power. “That was done to check human rights violations. But, we were able to control the violence in a short time,” he said.
Aminul Islam, the general secretary of the All India United Democratic Front, however, said, “Even the police were asked to go slow. They were not allowed to use their guns. The administration allowed the Bodo extremists to wipe out the Muslims. Government allowed the Sangh Parivar to project the massacre as a communal clash. It was not an attack against Muslims, but an attack on Bengalis. It was 
ethnic war.”
Islam, however, said his party did not want to react to the riots, as it would spread communal tension. “We need to be responsible. We need to save Assam. So we will not play politics,” he said.
According to him, the Bodos have attacked different religious groups in the last 20 years. Of 60 tribes in Assam, the Bodos are the biggest. “They always wanted to throw out the non-Bodos. This time also they did it. But it was given a communal colour by a section in the government and the RSS,” Islam said. He also blamed the internal rift in the Congress for lack of governance in Kokrajhar, and said a section in the government succeeded in spoiling Gogoi’s image.
The violence has, however, dented the image of the Congress nationally, though president Sonia Gandhi has insisted that Congress should not be portrayed as anti-Muslims. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former home minister P. Chidambaram visited Kokrajhar several times and asked the state Congress to remain united behind Gogoi and defuse 
the tension.
He may stay, though the coming days will be crucial for him. With the  Bodo militants vowing not to give any space to the Muslims on their land, the situation does not show any sign of improving in the near future.

Courtesy: The Week, September 1, 2012,


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