The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Peace plea & plainspeak mix in starve caution

Guwahati, Nov. 25: Laloo Prasad Yadav wrapped up his goodwill mission to Assam with a prayer for peace and some plain speaking about the repercussions of the ethnic backlash. He said the state “might starve if innocent Bihari people continue to be killed”.

The irrepressible Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) president spoke of bhaichara (brotherhood) for the better part of the day, but could not resist letting off steam at a rally organised by the Kamrup Chambers of Commerce.

Apparently perturbed by the killing of three more Biharis at Udalguri in Darrang district last night, he said Assam should realise that continued violence could lead to a bigger confrontation, affecting the state in more ways than one.

The tough talk over, he turned on the rustic charm again, playing to the gallery at the slightest opportunity.

As Laloo Prasad was winning over people in the capital, chief minister Tarun Gogoi was touring the violence-affected areas of Upper Assam to calm frayed nerves. He said Dispur would institute a CBI inquiry into the ethnic backlash, if necessary.

Gogoi assured the Bihari community of security, saying Delhi had sanctioned additional forces to restore normality.

Home secretary B.M. Mazumdar said 25 companies of central forces had been allotted, of which 19 had already arrived. He said six more were expected to reach Assam within the next 48 hours. Curfew in Tinsukia was eased from 6 am to 5 pm with the situation showing signs of improvement.

The chief minister was, however, greeted by protests from inmates of a relief camp in Doom Dooma. He beat a hasty retreat from the Hindi Lower Primary School, where the camp is located, when the 600 inmates became more raucous.

Sources said the inmates became aggressive when security forces prevented some women in the relief camp from airing their grievances.

Laloo Yadav had no such problems, giving anybody who wanted to say something a patient hearing.

Addressing a crowd of several thousand at Fancy Bazar, he said a continued exodus of “hard-working Bihari people” from Assam would pose serious problems.

The former Bihar chief minister also warned of bottlenecks in importing goods.

He said the Bihar Motor Transport Federation had already decided to stop sending trucks to Assam in protest against the militant attack in which four truck drivers were killed near the Assam-Bengal border.

However, he hastened to add that the Bihar government would not allow the boycott of Assam to continue. He urged Dispur and the people of Assam to ensure that Bihari people were not targeted.

Thousands of people from the Bihari, Assamese and Marwari communities waited for over four hours at the venue of the rally to hear the maverick leader speak. Going by the applause, he did not disappoint them.

Wearing a japi (traditional Assamese headgear) gifted to him, Laloo Prasad said: “Assam ka samman Bihar ka samman hai. Ye Assam ka topi hum Bihar le ja rahe hai sadbhavana ke roop mein (Assam’s esteem is Bihar’s esteem. I am taking back this cap of Assam to Bihar as a symbol of goodwill). Assamiya-Bihari bhai bhai.

The emotion-charged speech by the RJD chief followed a night of violence in which the Bihari community was again at the receiving end.

Militants suspected to be members of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) gunned down three persons of the community and injured nine at Khanglabari under Udalguri police station of Darrang district. The militants also torched 19 houses. Five of the injured were shifted to Guwahati Medical College and Hospital today.

The NDFB is the second militant group, after the Ulfa, to target the Bihari community.


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