Violence in Assam is the result of a clueless government allowing corruption and militants to dictate the agenda instead of coming up with a workable plan to bring peace, writes Kishalay Bhattacharjee
Friday afternoon’s killing in Kokrajhar market challenged the government claim of Assam’s controlled insurgency levels. The attack left 13 dead and more than a dozen injured in an audacious mid day shooting.
The attack came after a fairly long interval and took security agencies and residents by surprise, which is what a guerilla strike is meant to do.
The suspicion was on the anti-talk faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). The last attack on civilians by this group was in 2014, when they killed 70 people – mostly from the Adivasi community.
For almost 25 years, Kokrajhar and the Bodoland area has been heavily militarized both by government forces as well as underground militias. The so called ‘peace process’ that the government initiates with these groups are frustrating attempts to contain the violence.
But the government has no substantive road map for reconciliation or rehabilitation.
The result then is splits and mergers that begin another round of violence. As long as guns are in circulation, this pattern is predictable. Except that the government prefers to be in denial about this truth.
Bodoland presents a disturbing landscape of murky politics and insidious terror networks. Geographically, it borders West Bengal and Bhutan and controls the rail and road link to the rest of the region.
Beyond the West Bengal border is Nepal. Both Bhutan and Nepal have porous borders through which civilian movement is allowed and both countries have been safe havens for armed groups.
There are multiple issues on the ground: Separatist demands, subnational assertions, statehood demands and memories of bloody ethnic riots. The people in charge have blood on their hands and they run the state by their whims.
Hagrama Mohilary, the chief of the Bodoland Terrotorial Council (the autonomous council under the 6th Schedule of the Constitution that runs Bodoland) is a former head of Bodo Liberation Tigers. The Tigers used to be one of the most violent outfits in the area. They later put down their arms to join the government (though they held on to their main inventory).
The Lok Sabha MP from Kokrajhar is Naba Sarania, who was one of the illusive commanders of the United Liberation Front of Assam and is responsible for several attacks.
The newly elected BJP government is yet to get a grip on the ground. Considering what they had to say after the attack, clearly there are no plans for short term or long term reforms.
Assam’s approach to crisis has always been knee jerk – whether natural calamities like floods or attacks such as this. In the last few weeks 34 people have died and several lakh people have been displaced or affected in what has now become a routine annual flood.
If the embankments don’t breach, then the non-existent drainage system floods cities. Guwahati can barely survive an hour of heavy rainfall. Every civic infrastructure needs reinforcement.
With an armed insurgency as well, the state has let the situation take its own course. At the height of the violence, it unleashed state terror – consuming innocent lives with impunity. Irregular militias were allowed to run a parallel system of extortion and violence and out of turn government contracts.
The government never had a plan. And if it did, it never worked. When the violence ebbed, complacency set in. Corrupt and ineffective governance did little to help a state that was attempting to get back on its feet.
Friday’s attack is a combination of it all.