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BORDER CONFLICT: Assam Government targets its own people

POSTED ON 25 AUGUST 2014

wasbir hussain
Executive Director, CDPS & Visiting Fellow, IPCS

Yet again, there is a huge humanitarian crisis in the Uriamghat area, along the border with Nagaland in Assam’s Golaghat district. On August 12–13, armed Nagas, allegedly assisted by the NSCN–IM, descended on several villages on the Assam side and killed nine people, besides injuring at least seven others. The attackers torched scores of houses, took away cattle and livestock, and generally created a reign of terror. This triggered the exodus of more than 10,000 people from the area who are now staying in several so–called ‘relief camps’ in Golaghat district.

Now, the problem begins and several questions arise: the sector that faced the Naga attack is manned by the CRPF which is supposed to be the designated ‘neutral force’ deployed. When anger mounted in Assam as to how the Nagas could come and kill people without any resistance and the blame fell on the Assam Government for failing to protect its citizens, the explanation given by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi was that he had ‘no control’ over that area that is manned by the ‘neutral force’. The truth, however, is that the ‘commander’ of the ‘neutral force’ is the Additional Director General of Police (Border) of the Assam Police. That the CRPF usually do not carry out all orders issued by the ‘commander’ is a different story. This appeared enough for Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi to hold the Centre squarely responsible for failing to protect the border people, a charge Union Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju, has rejected saying the central forces are placed at the disposal of the State Government.

What one witnessed in Golaghat district on 19 and 20 August 2014 were shocking to say the least. First, the police forcibly clears the ‘economic blockade’ launched meanwhile by local groups and organizations, preventing trucks carrying essentials to Nagaland. Then when the protests grow with people coming out in large numbers, the police opens fire, taking direct aims at the protestors with AK–47s and self–loading rifles (SLR). The authorities said rubber bullets were used. On 20 August, in similar police firing, two people were killed and 14 others wounded, nine of them critically. The visuals of policemen taking direct aim with their weapons at unarmed protestors shocked the nation, forcing the Assam Government to order an enquiry by an Additional Chief Secretary into the police action. A constable has been placed under suspension for really unnecessarily beating up a motorcyclist who happened to arrive at one of the protest sites, a spectacle that is shocking to say the least.

What one has yet again realized is that the Assam Police lacks any training whatsoever in non–lethal crowd control techniques and neither does it have the required non–lethal weaponry. This has resulted in men of the Assam Police resorting to firing at even unarmed mob or protestors at the drop of a hat. That is a matter for the State Home Department and the Assam Police top brass to ponder and take corrective measures, but what is clear now is that the Tarun Gogoi–led Congress Government in Assam almost always let matters escalate without any dialogue or political intervention. In the latest case, the Chief Minister visited the scene of the trouble almost a week after the border incident, leading to increased anger among the affected people. This led to relief camp inmates and others targeting his convoy when he did try and visit the displaced border people. The question, however, is this – why did the Chief Minister not thought it necessary to depute a team of ministers and MLAs to visit the place and diffuse the crisis? Surprisingly, at a time when the Assam Government is in the dock over the police action in Golaghat, only the Chief Minister himself and the Kaliabor MP Gaurav Gogoi, incidentally the Chief Minister’s son, have come out in defence of the state government. No other state Congress leaders were seen in action!

At the end of the day, the Chief Minister sought to blame a section of the media for ‘bias’ and even asked why I was blaming him and not Rajnath Singh, the Union Home Minister. Well, that was symbolic and it is only because Mr Gogoi also holds the Home portfolio, and, therefore, must be accountable. Besides, the police and the paramilitary in the State are not under the operational control of the Union Home Ministry or the Centre as such.

And yes, New Delhi too has been going about issues like inter–state border disputes in a routine matter. One such example was Thursday’s meeting that Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju took in Guwahati with the Chief Ministers of Assam and Nagaland. At the end of a lengthy meeting, it was decided to ‘strengthen the machinery’ to make the ‘neutral force’ at the border more effective, whatever that means. A decision was also taken to engage in ground–level dialogues and frequent visits to the border areas by officials of both Assam and Nagaland. Another set of routine decisions at the end of yet another round of routine meeting. The affected are those killed or those who lost their homes and displaced.

(courtesy: The Sentinel)