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Backlash flames leap up again

Nov. 22: Pushed by militants, Assam relapsed into mayhem today as 11 more people were killed in the backlash that began as a clamour for jobs but has turned into a campaign against migrants.

Suspected Ulfa militants gunned down 11 brick kiln labourers in two separate incidents in Upper Assam’s Tinsukia district, shattering the brief lull in violence.

The strikes, which raised the toll in the weeklong frenzy to 47, came even as Dispur and New Delhi joined hands to bring back peace.

In a swift damage-control exercise, the Tarun Gogoi government suspended Tinsukia superintendent of police Satyen Gogoi and shunted deputy commissioner B.. Das. It placed four more Upper Assam towns — Bordubi, Kakopathar, Dholla and Makum — under curfew.

The state government also ordered the closure of brick kilns in remote areas to ensure the safety of labourers. Assam governor Lt Gen. (retd) Ajay Singh appealed to the masses to join hands against those fuelling the unrest, a fallout of the reprisal attacks on Northeast trains passing through Bihar. Mobs had raided the trains after a railway recruitment test blockade in Guwahati last week.

Today’s strikes came hours before a two-member central team — comprising minister in charge of the Northeast’s development C.P. Thakur and minister of state for home Swami Chinmayanand — arrived for a two-day visit. After touring areas in Bongaigaon with Union minister of state for water resources Bijoya Chakraborty, Thakur described the attacks on Biharis as “part of a big game plan” hatched by, among others, the Ulfa with the backing of Bangladesh. This, effectively, delinked the demand for reservation of jobs for local people in the railways from the mayhem.

“We (the Centre) will support the state government in its efforts to restore normality,” Thakur said.

Dispur also blamed the Ulfa. A caller claiming to be the spokesperson of the militant outfit said it was responsible for the killing of eight labourers. In all, 14 people were killed since last night in Tinsukia district, taking the toll there to 27.

In Patna, Laloo Prasad Yadav said the Bihar government would soon send a team of officials to Assam “for taking stock of the situation” and liaising with the government “in matters relating to security of life and property of Biharis there”.

The strikes shattered the relative calm of the past 36 hours. Police said two armed militants came to a brick kiln near Mahakali tea estate under Bordubi police station on a bicycle at 8.30 am and demanded that its mohori or sardar, one Jagannath Agarwal, identify the Bihari labourers.

Ten of them were lined up and sprayed with bullets. Eight died on the spot while two were seriously injured. There were about 200 labourers at the kiln. The rebel duo struck again an hour-and-a-half later at Haria, five km away, killing three labourers.

On the demand for 100 per cent job reservation for local people in the railways, which was iterated by Gogoi as well as the All Assam Students’ Union, Thakur said: “All of us have to sit together and think over it. According to a Supreme Court decision, anyone can apply anywhere. There should be no politics.”

But the demand for recruitment of sons of the soil reverberated hundreds of miles away in Mumbai where the Shiv Sena kept up its attacks on “outsiders” coming to take the railway recruitment tests.

 

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