Guwahati, Nov. 15: The story of the “secret killings” during the erstwhile AGP-led government’s tenure descended to the level of a farce today when the government placed before the Assembly contrary reports by two inquiry commissions, one acquitting Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and the other pronouncing him guilty.
Constituted in 2005, the K.N. Saikia Commission held Mahanta responsible for the extra-judicial killings between 1998 and 2001, when he was the chief minister and in charge of the home department. The panel also indicted Independent legislator Kushal Duori in one case of mass murder — that of suspected Ulfa “conduit” Uma Gogoi’s family.
Justice (retired) Saikia said in his report that the killings were the outcome of a nexus between police and surrendered Ulfa members, collectively referred to as Sulfa.
The findings of the preceding inquiry, which the Congress rejected in August 2005 and never made public, were almost the opposite of Saikia’s conclusions. The J.N. Sarma Commission not only gave Mahanta a clean chit but also to the police. However, it did point to a conspiracy and cited revenge as the motive for the killings. Most of the victims were either family members or people close to Ulfa militants.
“Today we find that whenever there is an unsolved crime, the police are blamed…The ordinary people must be made to believe that all required attempts were made, but the culprits could not be nabbed. It is not possible always to solve each and every crime. Some crimes may always remain unsolved but that itself cannot be a ground to condemn the police or the authority,” Justice (retd) Sarma observed in his 31-page preliminary report.
The government rejected the findings and the report would not have been made public had Gauhati High Court not intervened on Tuesday. Hearing a petition filed by Mahanta, the court said the government must file the reports of both inquiry commissions in the Assembly.
While the Sarma commission spoke of a conspiracy but did not identify the guilty, the Saikia commission said “there is enough evidence to show that the then home minister was at the helm of these extra-constitutional killings”.
Coining a new term for the killings — “Ulfocide” — the Saikia commission said in its four-part report that its inquiry into 35 such cases had left it with no doubt of the conspiracy between the police and Sulfa.
“There is lurking evidence of the police-Sulfa nexus in the killings, some of the latter being constituted into an extra-constitutional authority and used as the executioners, the modus operandi being to visit the family, ask members to persuade its Ulfa members to surrender, failing which an advance team would be sent to survey the location and structure of the house, followed by armed and masked men who would knock on the door to wake up the inmates and then drag him/them out and shoot him/them dead, or take take him/them away and secretly kill and throw the bodies somewhere.”
The Saikia commission said all the people who were targeted paid the price for not being able to pursue their relatives in Ulfa to come for peace talks.
“The then chief minister himself got press appeals to persuade them, published by different literary organisations of Assam like the Asam Sahitya Sabha, the Bodo Sahitya Sabha etc. Having failed to receive the desired response, the conspiracy to kill members of those Ulfa and Ulfa-related families must have been hatched in secrecy.”
The commission went on to say that “all of those who orchestrated the effort to bring Ulfa members to peace talks must have also been co-conspirators in the killings”.
It also criticised the functioning of the Unified Command structure for counter-insurgency operations and suggested its dismantling. “To make the police and the army work together in a civil situation may result in politicisation of the army on the one hand and militarisation of the police on the other. The result will be that we have a militarised police and a politicised military. Indeed, in almost all the cases under reference, we found evidence of frequent visits of armymen to the Ulfa families and during some of these so-called encounters.”
But for all the noise made by the Tarun Gogoi government about the Saikia commission finding Mahanta guilty, its action-taken report was silent on the indictment.
Based on the recommendations of the Saikia commission, the government decided to pay Rs 3 lakh to the families of the victims in the 35 cases that were investigated. It also agreed to re-investigate 20 cases, as suggested by the panel.