Assam has had a history of grenade attacks, but never at a religious festival. Insurgents fighting for a “sovereign” Assam have attacked all kinds of targets to challenge the authorities or terrorize the people. Sometimes, such attacks had been aimed at inciting one ethnic community against another. But the grenade attack at a Durga puja pandal at Bongaigaon exposes a new face of terror in the state. It may well be a plausible explanation that the attack was aimed at fomenting communal passions. Some such motive can explain why innocent people gathered at a religious ceremony were targeted so brutally .Neither the United Liberation Front of Asom nor any of the Bodo militant groups has a history of inciting religious passions. Of the insurgent groups in the Northeast, only the National Liberation Front of Tripura has an ugly record of exploiting religious sentiments to try and divide the people. Even disturbances in Meghalaya during religious festivals in the recent past had ethnic, rather than religious, motives. Besides, the attack in Assam falls in place with other recent examples of violence at places of worship, also designed to stir communal reactions. The perpetrators of the Bongaigaon violence may have been prompted by the same design that drove some terrorists to make the Akshardham temple in Gujarat a killing field last month.
The authorities in Assam have two urgent tasks on hand. They must do everything to frustrate the marauders’ evil design of sparking a communal backlash, helping the people to keep their cool and maintain communal amity. This would be the surest way of defeating terrorism. The chief minister, Mr Tarun Gogoi, must ensure that no group is allowed to exploit the situation to start a retaliation on communal lines. Even if the investigations point to the involvement of a particular religious group in the attack, that can be no reason to point the accusing finger at the common people practising that religion. But the state government should spare no pains to identify the group or individuals responsible for the Bongaigaon brutality. If it is an Islamic fundamentalist group, as has been suggested, all efforts should be made to find out its composition, support base and possible links with any foreign groups. Assam’s Muslims constitute 24 per cent of its population — the largest Muslim component of the population of any state in India. It is crucial that Islamic fundamentalism does not spread to ordinary Muslims. The state has a long border with Bangladesh where some fundamentalist groups have lately tried to set up bases. Assam cannot afford to underestimate the importance of the fight against this new menace.