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PROBE ALERT

State governments are generally wary of probes into law and order issues by a Central agency. Such inquiries, they fear, would hold the mirror up to their own failures and lapses. Assamís chief minister, Mr Tarun Gogoi, however, seems to be hoping that a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the killing of Biharis would give him a reprieve. The failure of his administration to prevent the killings that rocked the state for over a week was obvious to any impartial observer. But he hopes that the probe would unearth the involvement of his political opponents, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party and its ally in Assam, the Asom Gana Parishad, in inciting the brutalities. This clearly is a not too subtle attempt to influence the probe and reap political benefits from it. Mr Gogoi has taken a correct decision by calling for the CBI probe, but he can also queer its pitch by taking a political line on it. In fact, his government should be committed to offering the CBI a free hand not only because of the enormity of the crimes but also because of the need to expose the dark forces that instigated the killings. If the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom had masterminded the anti-Bihari campaign that led to the killings, it is in Mr Gogoiís interest to help the CBI uncover the conspiracy. It would help also to expose those responsible for the attack on Assamese and other north-eastern passengers inside a train in Bihar.

What Mr Gogoiís government does to help the probe will be crucial in preventing any recurrence of such violence. Any attempt by the government to stonewall the probe or influence it for political purposes would be a sure recipe for future disasters. While it identifies the guilty and fixes the responsibility for failures, any such probe would be an ineffective exercise if it does not come up with guidelines for future action. At the moment, though, restoring a sense of security among the Biharis and other non-Assamese residents in the state remains Mr Gogoiís top priority. One way of doing this is to assure the victimsí families and the non-Assamese population in general that the state government is serious about the probe. Even if the inquiry lays bare inadequacies or lapses on the part of the state government, Mr Gogoi may not have a choice but to accept the responsibility. The chief minister has failed several tests since the violence erupted. If he fails the test that the CBI probe may call for, peace in Assam may again be a casualty of an inept administration. This certainly is no time in Assam for a game of political oneupmanship.

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