The ‘outsiders’ continue to be soft targets for ethnic militants in the Northeast. The 23 non-Assamese people who were brutally killed by a Bodo group in Assam earlier this month had nothing to do with local politics or the anti-insurgency operations in the state. Many of them did not even live in Assam; they were travelling to Arunachal Pradesh, where they lived and worked. The militants who killed them apparently did so to avenge the death of a Bodo militant during an operation by the security forces. This massacre of innocent people can only point to the increasing desperation of the Bodo militants, especially those belonging to the National Democratic Front of Bodoland. This outfit has stubbornly refused to take part in the peace process that the Centre and the Assam government had begun with other Bodo groups. Its violent ways have also frustrated the Bodoland autonomous council’s attempts to usher in a new, democratic way of life for the community.
The killings should be a grim reminder to the Tarun Gogoi government that ethnic violence is still a matter of serious concern in Assam. True, the United Liberation Front of Asom, the biggest militant group, is in disarray following the arrest of most of its senior leaders. But that seems to have made the government somewhat complacent. Mr Gogoi has complained of a shortage of Central forces in the state following the shifting of some of these to Bihar for the elections there. But there are indications that the Bodo militants have taken advantage of the administration’s lax attitude in the wake of its successes against the Ulfa. While it tries to engage the Ulfa in fresh peace initiatives, the state cannot afford to lower its guard against Bodo and other militant groups. A violent group’s ability to kill or cause destruction is not linked to its numerical strength.