The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi steps in, Assam braces for bandh

Nov. 16: Delhi stepped in to douse the flames fanned by the mob attacks on rail passengers from Assam while passing through Bihar as tension mounted on the eve of a 24-hour statewide bandh called by the All Assam Students Union.

Sporadic violence, including the murder of a Hindi-speaking trader in Nagaon, was reported during the day. The Bihar and Assam governments issued appeals in a bid to restore a semblance of normality.

In Delhi, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani told a delegation of women students from Bihar that he would speak to the chief ministers of the two states and find a way to defuse the tension caused by the railway recruitment drama and, consequently, the attacks on rail passengers.

The Bihar government described the attacks on rail passengers in transit as “unfortunate and shameful”. Chief secretary K.A.H Subramanian said in a statement that no government would condone such an act. “It is a slur on the glorious tradition of solidarity and unity of the country.”

Union minister for development of the Northeast C.P. Thakur joined the two governments in appealing to the people to exercise restraint. He urged people from Bihar who are based in Assam and the other northeastern states not to panic because of some stray incidents.

The Purbottar Hindustani Yubak Samaj, the Hindustani Purbottar Sanmillan and the Hindustani Navayubak Samaj, all representing the Hindi-speaking community of Assam, made similar statements. Condemning the attacks on rail passengers, these organisations backed the AASU-called bandh in a gesture of solidarity.

However, Dispur described the bandh as “unwarranted”, saying it would compound the problem rather than solve it. Public meetings were held in all district headquarters of Assam to prevent an outbreak of violence.

In Nagaland, the Naga Students Federation announced a separate agitation to protest the assault on rail passengers from the Northeast. The organisation will hold a rally in Dimapur, the state’s commercial hub, tomorrow.

The unrest began with some Bihar-based candidates for railway jobs being manhandled in Guwahati when they went there to sit for a written test on November 9. The second round of the examination, however, went off without a hitch in 257 centres spread across Assam, Bihar and Bengal.

Sources in Patna said Bihar police had stepped up its investigation into the mob attacks on rail passengers. Police teams rounded up 24 suspects during a series of raids in Katihar, Jamalpur and Munger.

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Laloo Prasad Yadav contacted AASU leaders Sammujjal Bhattacharyya and Prabin Boro in a bid to defuse the tension. He told the duo that the Rabri Devi government would issue shoot-at-sight orders in the event of miscreants targeting rail passengers from Assam again.

Laloo Prasad said he understood the anxiety of youths from the Northeast over candidates from other states getting most of the jobs in the railways. The RJD chief made a case for “a fixed quota of railway jobs for my brothers and sisters of the northeastern states”.

Bihar director general of police D.P. Ojha said on Thursday that prima facie evidence collected by the police indicated that people owing allegiance to MP Pappu Yadav were involved in the attacks on rail passengers.

Pappu Yadav, who is Rabri Devi’s brother, has since participated in protests at Katihar and Purnia against the retaliatory attacks on settlers from Bihar.

Inspector-general of police (headquarters) Neelmani said in Patna this afternoon that the 20 people taken into custody during raids in Munger, Jamalpur and the adjoining areas had no links with the candidates manhandled in Guwahati.

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