April 11: Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s proposed visit to Assam’s Karbi Anglong district tomorrow came under a security cloud with militants killing one in a grenade attack on a fuel pump in Bokajan, about 50 km from the headquarter town of Diphu.
Sonia Gandhi is to address an election rally in Diphu after visiting adjoining Golaghat. A senior Congress leader said tonight he was not sure if the party chief would stick to her travel schedule. “Her visit depends on whether the Special Protection Group (SPG) clears it.”
Though Diphu has been relatively calm, security forces are taking no chances as the Kuki Revolutionary Front and the anti-talks faction of the United People’s Democratic Solidarity are engaged in a war of attrition in the district.
Karbi Anglong superintendent of police Pankaj Sarma said five militants on an autorickshaw hurled a grenade at the cash counter of Bokajan’s only fuel depot, killing its manager, 42-year-old Parameswar Mahato, on the spot. The attack, carried out around 10.35 am, was the third militancy-related incident in Bokajan subdivision in three weeks. As many as 40 people were killed in these incidents.
Sarma allayed apprehension about another burst of violence, saying adequate security arrangements had been made. “We have already traced the route that the militants took while fleeing after the incident this morning. We hope to arrest all of them soon,” he said.
A police source in Bokajan said the attack on the fuel depot could be the outcome of the owner’s refusal to comply with the militants’ demand for money. He said security in the district had been beefed up to “unprecedented levels” with army and paramilitary personnel assisting the police.
Diphu town resembled a fortress with gun-toting security personnel seen everywhere on the eve of Sonia Gandhi’s proposed visit.
Election commissioner . Gopalaswami said in Guwahati yesterday that there was reason to believe militants would try to disrupt the Lok Sabha poll in Assam. “I do not rule out the possibility of violence during the Lok Sabha elections.”
Chief minister Tarun Gogoi made a similar statement a few days earlier. He asked candidates for the 14 Lok Sabha seats of the state to be alert to the possibility of attacks by militants, especially while campaigning.
The Ulfa gunned down the BJP candidate for the Dhubri seat, Pannalal Oswal, a few days before the 1999 Lok Sabha poll and another candidate from the same party, Jayanta Dutta, at Dibrugarh in 2001.
However, dissension in the Congress’ Karbi Anglong unit is a bigger source of worry for the PCC than security for Sonia Gandhi. The problem stems from the high command’s decision to give the party ticket for the Diphu seat to Biren Sing Ingti instead of Kuntila Ronghampi, who was the first choice.
Ronghampi is the wife of Congress legislator Bidya Singh Engleng. She blames the PCC president Paban Singh Ghatowar for her plight.
Supporters of Ronghampi, backed by the Karbi Anglong Mahila Samiti, last night threatened to call a 10-hour Karbi Anglong bandh in protest against Sonia Gandhi’s visit. They aborted the idea after much convincing, but placed three conditions. One of these is a berth for Engleng in the Gogoi cabinet.
The Karbi Anglong unit of the NSUI and the Youth Congress have warned the chief minister of a campaign against the party candidate.