| AASU activists burn tyres to block a road during the bandh on Monday. (Picture by UB Photos)
Nov. 17: Hindi-speaking residents of Assam continued to bear the brunt of the backlash over rail passengers from the Northeast being attacked in Bihar. Sporadic incidents of violence were reported from across the state during the 24-hour bandh called by the All Assam Students Union (AASU).
The Bihar government this evening handed over the probe into the attacks on rail passengers to the CBI and requested Delhi to send 20 additional companies of central forces.
The announcement followed a request by Assam to institute a judicial inquiry or one by the CBI.
“Without losing faith in the ability of our police to probe such cases, we have decided to recommend a CBI inquiry as the incidents involved people from several states and also in consideration of the request from my Assam counterpart,” chief secretary K.A.H. Subramanian told reporters in presence of RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav in Patna.
Several passengers from the Northeast had complained of molestation — a woman was stripped and tormented in one instance — and assault while their trains passed through Bihar last week after an allegation that some applicants from Bihar were prevented from taking a railway recruitment test in Guwahati.
In Guwahati, the AASU leadership claimed the 24-hour statewide bandh was “total and peaceful”.
However, reports of people hailing from Bihar being targeted continued to pour in from various parts of the state. Some of these incidents occurred in the capital city. The impact of the bandh revived memories of the anti-foreigner agitation in the state from the late seventies to the early eighties.
Chief minister Tarun Gogoi cut short his visit to Mizoram in view of the worsening situation in his state. He reviewed security arrangements immediately after returning to Guwahati and asked the administration to deal sternly with trouble- makers.
The officer on special duty in the chief minister’s office, Debojit Das, said an all-party meeting would be held from 11 am tomorrow to review the situation. Gogoi convened two more meetings, one with editors of newspapers and another with senior citizens.
Four AASU activists were injured in a clash near Margherita in Tinsukia district, while the police fired in the air to disperse a mob in the oil town of Duliajan.
The chief minister’s hometown, Titabor, witnessed violent protests in the evening. An employee of a petrol depot and the houses of two traders were attacked.
AASU adviser Sammujjal Bhattacharyya blamed miscreants for the violence and said all district units of the student organisation had been asked to prevent unscrupulous people from taking advantage of the situation. He said the Centre and the Bihar and Assam governments were responsible for the outbreak of violence.
Governor Lt Gen. (retd) Ajay Singh invited the AASU leadership for discussions after reviewing the situation.
During the meeting, Bhattacharyya repeated his organisation’s demand for cent per cent reservation of grade C and D railway jobs in Assam for resident candidates.
The AASU leader told the media after the meeting that the governor promised to raise the subject in Delhi.
Chief secretary J.P. Rajkhowa wrote to his Bihar counterpart Subramanian, urging him not to delay the probe into the attacks on rail passengers.
He said an inquiry was necessary to “allay the hurt feelings of the people of Assam and parts of the neighbouring states”.
Subramanian had yesterday described the attacks in Bihar as “unfortunate and shameful”.
Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav appealed for peace again after his interaction with Bhattacharyya and AASU president Prabin Boro.
He said the Rabri Devi government w ould issue shoot-at-sight orders in the event of recurrence of violence against passengers on trains passing through Bihar.
Laloo Yadav, who sympathised with the Northeast residents’ anxiety for jobs in the railways, demanded a fixed quota of railway jobs for “my brothers and sisters of the northeastern states”.