The Telegraph
Sunday , May 4 , 2014
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Assam flare-up linked to elections

Guwahati, May 3: The flare-up in Assam that has claimed at least 30 lives so far has been linked to the Lok Sabha polls following national and local allegations that lay the blame at diametrically different doors.

Outside Assam, Narendra Modi’s speeches in the state blaming Bangladeshi infiltration have been held responsible for creating an atmosphere that fomented trouble.

Within Assam, the ally of the Congress-led government is under fire for an alleged ethnic cleansing campaign aimed at re-engineering the voting population.

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah told an election rally that “the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate made a speech in Assam three days ago and tried to incite people. This truth cannot be denied”.

The BJP responded by saying that “in Assam what is happening is because of the vote-bank politics of the Congress”.

Modi was not in Assam three days ago — he was there last on April 19. But he has been referring to Bangladeshi infiltration in his speeches in eastern India, including in Assam and in Bengal (last Sunday). In Assam, he had gone so far as to suggest that rhinos were being killed in Kaziranga National Park to find room for infiltrators.

However, within Assam itself, attention was focused on Congress ally Bodo People’s Front (BPF), that was accused of issuing indirect threats to a community for not voting for its candidate in the Lok Sabha polls that took place on April 24.

Till late last night, suspicion for the carnage had largely revolved around a militant faction opposed to talks with the government. The outfit, the NDFB (Songbijit), today formally denied any involvement and blamed a “third party”.

Aware of the cross-country implications in the middle of the elections — 105 seats are yet to vote — a clamour is growing within the Congress to snap ties with the BPF which has had a militant past. The state Congress does not need the 12-MLA BPF to remain in power.

Congress leaders are openly demanding the arrest of senior BPF legislator Pramila Rani Brahma who has been accused of making inflammatory statements on television. AICC secretary Bhupen Kumar Borah called her “Lady Macbeth”.

Pramila said her statement had been misinterpreted. “I said we were expecting 80 per cent votes (from the community) but got much less. I am also pained at the developments. I demand a CBI probe into the allegations so that the truth is out,” she said.

The Assam government is trying to ensure that the events of 2012, when violence claimed 102 lives and displaced as many as four lakh people, do not recur. Officials have been asked to convince village heads to prevent an exodus.

Multiple versions appeared to converge on one theme: an apprehension in the Bodo camp that a victory in the Kokrajhar Lok Sabha seat by a non-Bodo candidate would strike at the root of the demand for a Bodo state that has been high on the agenda of the BPF.

Naba Kumar Sarania, the commander of Ulfa’s 709 battalion that joined the pro-talks faction of the outfit led by Arabinda Rajkhowa before being expelled, is contesting against the BPF nominee and state minister, Chandan Brahma.

“Eighty-seven per cent of the people in the BTAD area are non-Bodos,” Jogeswar Kalita of the Oboro Suraksha Samiti (OSS), the anti-Bodoland organisation that supports Sarania, said. “Sarania will win and that makes the BPF insecure.”

The All Assam Minority Students’ Union leader, Abdur Rahim Khan, and Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti president Akhil Gogoi said the violence was “fully political”. “The BPF is behind the killings; they are trying to threaten the people to ensure that they don’t vote for anyone else in the BTC council elections slated for 2015,” Khan said.

“The police are blaming the NDFB(S) but villagers have told me that former Bodo Liberation Tigers cadres had attacked them. It seems to be an after-effect of the Lok Sabha election,” Gogoi of the KMSS said.

But the All Bodo Students’ Union (Absu), at the forefront of the movement for a separate state, rejected the population theory. “A majority population is not constitutionally required for the creation of a separate state,” Pramod Boro, the president of the Absu, said.

The civil society is vocal that BTAD’s politics must be cleansed of militancy. “Politics of the gun was a phenomenon in north Indian states before but now has become an Assam phenomenon. Till it is cleansed, democracy won’t be safe,” said Deven Dutta, the former vice-principal of Cotton College in Guwahati.

While BPF leader Hagrama Mohilary once led the militant Bodo Liberation Tigers, Chandan Brahma was its vice-chairman. Hira Sarania, who was brought in to represent the non-Bodos, was an Ulfa leader.

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