Editorial | The Password| 6 August 2016
It was a normal weekly market day when the terror struck Assam’s Kokrajhar district on 5 August 2016, killing atleast 14 civilians and leaving 20 people in critical conditions. According to some narratives originating from the police administration, four to five heavily armed masked gunmen, dressed in black, indiscriminately began firing at the crowded market. The militants came in an auto rickshaw and swooped down on Balajan Tiniali market in Kokrajhar which is about four kilometres from Bodoland University and three-kilometres from the Central Institute of Technology. One militant was killed during the gun battle with security forces; however, the security forces were unable to capture any of the other assailants. The victims mostly belonged to local Bodo community who came to the weekly market for purchasing essential items. The injured are being shifted to nearby hospitals. It was a terrible display of violence. Nobody expected such violence at a time when people are yet to over their tragedies caused by devastating rains and floods. It was deeply shocking, unexpected and unbelievable that is not devoid of silent conspiracy. Kokrajhar is part of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), an autonomous region which governs Assam’s four districts – Udalguri, Baksa, Chirang and Kokrjahar, have been inflicted with series of violence unleashed by state and non-state actors for mysterious reasons.
As usual, the prime suspect is on the Songbhijit faction of National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB), a militant group which is fighting for an independent Boroland. Assam police was quick to point fingers at the outfit only to be denied by the militant leadership. It is also feasible that the outfit may resort to such tactics after being hit hard by security forces in the ongoing operations. However, at this point time everything is vague. Who is right and who is wrong, it sounds quite deceptive. There is a galaxy of difference between the narratives given by police, army and civilians who have witnessed the scene. It is leading to a silent conspiracy. Narratives and the sequence of the incident are quite discontinuous.
The Telegraph reports:
While eyewitnesses put the number of assailants between three and seven, army officials said there were two, one of whom was killed during retaliation by security forces. An AK-56 rifle was recovered from him, defence spokesperson Suneet Newton said in Guwahati……The police, however, said there were three assailants. “The three assailants came in an auto-rickshaw, stopped the vehicle and started firing indiscriminately,” L.R. Bishnoi, additional director-general of police, Bodoland Territorial Areas Districts (BTAD), said……”This points out to three gaping holes in the system. First, there was absolutely no area domination and no search and seek operations by the forces. Second, there was absolutely no coordination between the army and the police and, third, there was complete intelligence failure,” said a deputy inspector-general of police.
Both the army and the state police released contradictory statements regarding the operation. While state senior cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma along with state police officials claimed that the Assam police had saved the day, the army claimed that it was their forces that had carried out the operation…….Sarma said, “Our alert police reached within 10 minutes. Maybe 100 people would have otherwise got killed.”….The army statement said, “An army patrol which was in the vicinity immediately reacted and cordoned the area. The army troops neutralised one of the terrorists on the spot. The swift action by the army troops has prevented indiscriminate killings of civilians in the crowded market place. Any delayed action by the army would have resulted in extremely high casualties amongst the unarmed, innocent civilians.”
Assam has been under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act since 1990. The state’s security is handled by the Unified Command that is headed by the chief secretary. Operations under the Unified Command are as per practice carried out by the police, aided by the army and central security forces……Initial speculation that the attack could have been carried out by jihadi elements, possibly in retaliation against the killing of minorities in July-August 2012 and May 2014, later gave way to possibilities of the attack being the handiwork of the Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Boroland. “Eyewitnesses, who our soldiers met, said the attackers spoke in Bodo,” Newton said. (http://www.telegraphindia.com/1160806/jsp/frontpage/story_100890.jsp)
The conflicting statement of the concerned state authority, if not substantiated by credible evidences followed by a proper investigation will serve the cheap publicity that the insurgent groups want. They would probably love this callous rhetoric of the government agencies as it gives them legitimacy they needed the most to prove their existence. And, through violence, they flex their muscles, which we need to disapprove. Any time. Every time. In certain quarters, this is percieved as an attempt to divert the Bodo leadership who are planning to launch massive democratic agitations after India’s indepenence day celebration on 15 August. In addition, there is an ongoing call by tribal communities to raise their protest against Modi’s government’s decision to grant Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to Assam’s socially and economically empowered non-tribal communities. Moreover, All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) has been stating protest against Centre’s decision to grant citizenship to thousands of illegal Bangladeshi Hindu immigratns who have settled in Assam. Such events have not gone well with the state government. Whatsoever, it calls for severe condemnation. It shouldn’t end here. Truth must be told loud and clear. And, justice must be delivered, at the earliest.
There are a number of militant groups who operate in the area including the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA-Paresh Baruah Faction), Islamic Jihadists and Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) whose objective is to carve out a separate Kamtapur State, a demand which overlaps the demand territorial aspiration of Northeast’s largest Bodo indigenous community. Moreover, frequent arrests of Islamic Jihadists operating in lower Assam particularly in Bodoland area, has already created a tremor among people as it has the potential to create ethnic divides. This year alone over 37 Islamic terrorists have alleged to be arrested by security forces from lower Assam. It is growing in numbers and becoming more dreadful. The style and methods used in yesterday’s carnage was pretty unconventional and different. People in Northeast, have not witnessed any such type of suicidal terror attacks in the last three decades of violent armed insurgency movements. Such tactics are usually deployed by Jihadists in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Irag, Syria, among others. Violence of this magnitude, if not tackled efficiently can easily lead to unpredictable situations as the scars of enmity among the local communities are very much prevalent in the region following series of communal conflagration. The government must tell the truth whether it was Jihadists or local militant groups or any other agencies who unleashed the reign of terror. Moreover there is a strong undercurrent against the idea of Bodo state. In such climax, the possibility of forces under the banner of fragile solidarity – Oboros to thwart Bodoland aspiration are not completely impossible. It has happened in the past. It is happening now. It will repeat in different forms and style.
Innumerable violence have created havoc in the region since the past three decades. In July 2012 and December 2014 thousands of people were displaced by violence. Insurgency was blamed for the tragedy. What is practically missing is lack of policy on the part of the successive government to address the problems of insurgency and militancy in the region. Ironcially, intellectuals, journalists, policy makers, politicians, among others, have shown their tragic failure in this regard to point about the loopholes in India’s fight against the militants whose demands range from political autonomy to compete independence from Indian. A massive military crackdown called – Operation All Out has been going in Bodoland since December 2014 carnage in which 100 people were killed by suspected militants. What is needed at the movement is that alongside military surgical strikes on the fringe elements, there is an urgency to bring them into negotiable table and find a pragmatic and sustainable solution to their varied political demands, whether it is demand for political autonomy or any other socioeconomic aspirations. While some militant groups, including two powerfual militant factions of Boroland have entered into peace talks with Indian government, however, it seems to be heading nowhere even after lapsed of several years. Moreover, the security forces need to tighten its operations against rise of Jihadists and fundamental forces whose presence is very much alive among illegal immigrants settled in Bodoland and other parts of Assam. Nobody knows when the next agency of terror or state sponsored violence will sweep across Assam. Yesterday’s new style of suicidal attack in the heart of Kokrajhar could be the begging of a much bigger game taking place under nose of the State.
As of now, everyone one is safe in Bodoland, except the Bodos fell and elderly man in Kokrajhar.