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COLD COMFORT

Even a tragedy can be grist to the cynical politician’s mill. There was little surprise, therefore, that Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav sought to score political points with the Bharatiya Janata Party over the killing of more than 50 Biharis in Assam. Ostensibly, he visited the state to comfort families of the victims and do his bit to restore mutual trust between the people of the two states. But the way he blamed the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance government in New Delhi for the tragedy exposed his ulterior motives. One could reasonably argue that the Centre should have been more prompt to respond to the request by the chief minister, Mr Tarun Gogoi, for more paramilitary forces in Assam. Perhaps the Central intelligence agencies could have done more to alert the Assam government on the dangers of a backlash immediately after the assault on Assamese passengers inside a train in Bihar. But Mr Yadav deliberately avoided blaming the Gogoi government for failing to prevent the spread of violence even after the first killings were reported. Even if the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom or the All Assam Students’ Union had sparked the hate campaign against the Biharis, Mr Gogoi did precious little to stop it. Obviously, Mr Yadav was anxious to shield Mr Gogoi, whose party — the Congress — is a junior partner in the ruling coalition in Bihar, led by the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

Such cynical politics would be cold comfort to the beleaguered Biharis living in terror in Assam. Nor would it help to instil confidence among the two peoples. Mr Yadav’s mission to Assam failed also to stress that the common people in either state had no hand in the criminal acts. It is important to stress this point in order to restore normalcy in Assam. The common people of both states will suffer major hardships if this fear continues. Transport operators from Bihar have stopped ferrying essential supplies to Assam, while people from Assam are avoiding train journeys through Bihar. The governments of both Assam and Bihar must act quickly to end this feeling of insecurity because fear is often a prelude to aggression. Mr Gogoi not only failed to prevent the killing of Biharis, but he has also demoralized the Biharis in his state by failing to punish the killers. It has been suggested that most political parties in Assam, including the ruling Congress, have been rather lukewarm in condemning the violence on the Biharis for fear of losing Assamese votes in next month’s civic elections in the state. Parochialism may help some politicians, but it can be suicidal for the common people.

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