New Delhi, Aug. 20: Union home minister Rajnath Singh today asked the chief ministers of Assam and Nagaland to “sit across the table” and restore normalcy as the situation on the inter-state boundary veered out of control.
Singh called for “strict action” against perpetrators of violence and added that the forces, while being stern, should exercise restraint while dealing with peaceful protests. At least 17 people have been killed since the border skirmish broke out on August 12.
The home ministry today sent a report to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the situation prevailing in the violence-affected area. It said the situation was triggered by a land dispute between an Adivasi farmer and a Naga. It suggests that the situation was compounded by intervention of insurgent groups first and later due to protests in which activists like Akhil Gogoi and “political leaders from within the Congress party opposed to the chief minister” were involved, sources said.
Gogoi has been facing a challenge from a section of the Congress, led by Himanta Biswa Sarma.
To defuse the crisis, the two chief ministers will make a joint statement calling for peace on the border after a meeting with Union minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju in Guwahati tomorrow, sources said. Rijiju will lead a central team to Guwahati where he will meet Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi and Nagaland chief minister T.R. Zeliang.
The violence, triggered by a land dispute between farmer Salmon Sama and one Ekon Lotha, took on an ethnic colour when the Adivasi National Liberation Army backed one side and the Khole-Kitovi and Isak-Muivah factions of the NSCN backed the other.
While clashes on the border were a result of the land dispute, the firing by Assam police was a result of protests against the administration for not protecting life and property of border settlers comprising Adivasis or tea-tribes, Nepalese and new migrants from Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal besides some local Assamese.
As the Assam chief minister trained guns on the Centre today, accusing the CRPF of a partisan attitude towards villages in Nagaland, CRPF director-general Dilip Trivedi dismissed the allegation. “We function as per IPC and CrPC and are helping rehabilitation of affected people in the disturbed area belt,” he told The Telegraph.
As the situation on the boundary veered out of control and protests against the Gogoi administration spreading across the state, Gogoi held the absence of central intervention responsible for the worsening law and order in the area.
Responding to Gogoi’s allegation, Rijiju told reporters on the sidelines of an event today, “The chief minister’s statement is irresponsible…we are helping them.”
Protests assumed a political colour as the All Assam Students Union (AASU) called for Gogoi’s resignation today. AASU adviser Samujjal Bhattacharjya termed Gogoi a “barbarian CM and a liar” at a press conference here.
AASU leaders met Rijiju and requested the Centre to intervene urgently. They asked for withdrawal of the CRPF which, they alleged, is not neutral — an allegation also levelled by Gogoi — and demanded that the people displaced be sent back to their villages with “full protection” of the Assam police.
Nearly 10,000 people have been displaced in raids allegedly by Naga villagers along the border.
The AASU is in touch with the Naga Students Federation (NSF). Both are members of the North East Students Organisation, an umbrella body of student unions in the Northeast. “We want people-to-people contact to continue,” Bhattacharjya said.