A candle-lit vigil for peace in Chandigarh on Friday. (Reuters)
New Delhi, Aug. 17: Both Houses of Parliament today stood together and political parties set aside their differences as they expressed solidarity with the people of the Northeast and pledged to safeguard India’s integrity.
All political opportunism since the Bodo-Muslim violence in Bodoland Territorial Areas District gave way to agreement on one crucial point: Do everything to remove fear among the people from the Northeast living elsewhere in India.
This coherence in New Delhi almost coincided with the political assertiveness that seemed to unfold in Dispur where the Congress has been sore within. “What is at stake is the unity and integrity of our country; what is at stake is communal harmony; and, it is the solemn obligation of all of usÖto work together to create an atmosphereÖthat the people of the northeastern states feel genuinely that any part of our country welcomes them,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in Rajya Sabha. He was speaking during the discussion on “Attacks on migrants from Northeast region” that was taken up by suspending Question Hour.
As Singh spoke of unity and amity in Parliament, one person was shot dead by motorcycle-borne gunmen at Bandwsara near Champa bridge under Salakati police station in Chirang district, bordering Kokrajhar, around 7 this evening. The deceased, Hasim Ali, 35, owned a pharmacy at Champa bridge market. Home ministry sources said the CBI and the special investigation team of Mumbai police were investigating the larger conspiracy angle, believed to have been perpetrated by “people in responsible positions who were unable to stop what they started”. Once anti-national elements smelt the opportunity, rumours swirled, they added.
Senior Bangalore police officer V.S. D’Souza suggested the texted threats “may have started off from the Northeast” but added that the source hadn’t yet been pinpointed. The sms had no truth in it.
Many blamed the August 11 Mumbai protest for the spread of distrust in other cities. “When a quiet procession turned violent in Mumbai, people in other places felt it could also happen there,” Bodoland People’s Front MP Biswajit Daimary said.
Leader of Opposition in the two Houses, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, urged each member to ensure that rumour-mongering ends. Jaitley said the Centre, state governments, all political parties and all communities must speak in one language and make sure that the exodus ends. The Prime Minister said as patriots we must send out a message to all those who want to disturb peace and amity in the country that this House stands united in support of all the people of the Northeast.
Speaker after speaker spoke of the integrity of the Northeast with the rest of India. Platitudes about the “innocence of people of the Northeast” are commonly heard from politicians but it was different today as Parliament sent a strong message to elements threatening security.
Parties like Shiv Sena also spoke with utmost restraint. “My party Shiv Sena also wants to keep the country united,” said party leader and MP Sanjay Raut, while participating in the debate on harmony.
In the Lok Sabha, the Prime Minister said, “The unity and integrity of our country is being threatened by certain elements; and without apportioning blame, I would urge this House to send a message loud and clear to all the people of the Northeast residing in different parts of our country that our people are one.”
Trinamul Congress leader Sudip Bandopadhyay suggested that a parliamentary delegation should visit the troubled areas in Assam to instil confidence among the people.
Replying to the discussion, home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, who is also leader of the House in Lok Sabha, praised Karnataka government for acting swiftly as if in an effort to deflect an attack from the BJP.
It came to light today that Shinde was completely in the dark about the incidents till he spoke to the Prime Minister. He said his attention was drawn towards the people from the Northeast fleeing Karnataka by Singh when he accompanied him for the funeral of former Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.
“The Prime Minister told me about Karnataka at the airport. He also called the Karnataka chief minister. I also talked to him,” Shinde said.
The Congress, which is facing the brunt of public and political ire for the endless spell of violence in Assam and the panic among people from the Northeast triggering widespread exodus, tried to hit back. Party spokesperson Manish Tewari said, “Who are the forces behind these rumours? Who gains from it? Obviously the reactionary forces who thrive on fundamentalism and communalism.”