Guwahati, April 26: Former Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta today made his first appearance before the judicial commission probing the so-called secret killings that took place during his second term in Dispur and displayed more than a hint of forgetfulness when it came to answering uncomfortable questions.
Mahanta faced a barrage of questions from the Justice K.N. Saikia Commission on topics ranging from the attacks on family members of Ulfa rebels to the functioning of the Unified Command for counter-insurgency operations when he was heading the AGP-led alliance government.
The term “secret killings” came to be used to refer to incidents during that period because the killers were never identified, leave alone caught.
Mahanta, who now leads the AGP (Pragatisheel), was cross-examined by senior counsel Y.K. Phukan on the basis of an affidavit submitted by him. He parried several queries by saying “I do not remember now”.
To a question on whether the killing of surrendered Ulfa militant Tapan Dutta on August 10, 1998, triggered the wave of attacks in which the family members of several Ulfa rebels died, Mahanta said: “I do not believe it was so.”
The former chief minister was also examined in connection with the killing of Dimba Rajkonwar, the brother of Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, in Dibrugarh in 1998.
On whether the government had issued any notification when the Unified Command structure was introduced in Assam, Mahanta said: “There must have been some notification, but I cannot specifically remember.”
Replying to another question on the functioning of the Unified Command, Mahanta said the operations group of the three-tier structure, headed by the general-officer-commanding of the army’s Tezpur-based 4 Corps, could launch an offensive with the help of the district administration.
A third query ' whether the army could conduct operations without informing the civil administration ' elicited a similar response. Mahanta said the heads of districts were generally kept informed about any such operation in their area of jurisdiction.
There have been allegations that troops conduct operations without the knowledge of the civil administration in violation of the norms of the Unified Command.
Justice K.N. Saikia fixed May 24 and 25 as the dates for the next two hearings. Mahanta will be cross-examined by senior government advocate P.K. Musahary and B.D. Konwar, counsel for Dimba Rajkonwar, during the next hearing, the judge said.
Based on a plea by the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad, the panel decided to include another incident in the ambit of the inquiry.
Six members of a farmer’s family were killed in that incident, which occurred at Mahmara in Sivasagar district on September 12, 1999.
The family of farmer Uma Gogoi was supposedly targeted because he had allegedly provided shelter to Ulfa militants.
The number of cases with the inquiry commission is now 20.
Mahanta told the media after his deposition that he was helping the commission to ferret out the truth. He said some people with vested interests were “playing politics” against him by using the topic of secret killings as their weapon.
“Neither me nor my government encouraged secret killings and I will never do so in the future,” he said.