Bodo attacks: Ignoring intel inputs in violence-hit Assam is unpardonable
Despite having intelligence inputs, the Assam government failed to stop the killing of tribals by militants of the Songbijit faction of National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-S), and later the retaliatory action from tribals in which Bodo homes were torched.
While state government sources claim that the input was sketchy and not actionable, the recurrence of similar violence reveals that not everything is right with the government’s approach.
After a review exercise of the violent incidents by Home Minister Rajnath Singh, his deputy Kiran Rijiju, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, top officials of Assam administration and the police on Thursday, it was decided to press the country’s premier counter-terrorism agency, National Investigation Agency (NIA), into the job. The Indian Army has already deployed military helicopters to hunt down NDFB (S) militants. But these are routine, almost ritualistic, follow-ups to any big attack anywhere in the country.
What’s the guarantee three soft targets in Assam –tribals, the minority community comprising Bengali Muslims, and the migrants, who came as labourers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand – wouldn’t face similar attacks later? Though Tuesday’s attack was the deadliest in the remote area in recent years, it was not the first of its kind on adivasis. They were targeted for the first time in Kokrajhar in 1996, where the casualty crossed 200. There have been similar incidents on a smaller scale now and then.
“First and foremost, it was the failure of the state government which failed to act on the intelligence input in case of the first attack, and again the retaliatory attack. The latter could have been averted,” remarked former director general of police (Assam), Prakash Singh.
According to a central intelligence source, Intelligence Bureau (IB) had alrted that the militants might unleash an attack on the locals due to the mounting pressure on them from security agencies, which it had reportedly been shared with the state unit.“This massacre was a retaliation for an offensive that security forces launched against the Bodo faction a month ago that inflicted heavy losses to them both in terms of men and arms. The Bodo militants had already alerted the government to stop any action against them. They made it quite clear that if security forces mess up with them, the innocents would have to bear the brunt. And, they proved it right this time. Whether the state police failed to act on intelligence input or not is secondary, the primary issue is that the police failed to use its judgment that after getting pushed out by security forces, the militants would target the adivasis in Kokrajhar and Sonitpur,” said counter-terrorism analyst Anil Kamboj.
According to Prakash Singh, the militants took to mass killing to create a pressure on the government and get political recognition for their demands. “Though, the massacre was carried out by the of the Songbijit faction, which is not involved in talks with the government, it is hand-in-gloves with the other two factions. This was political blackmailing. The militants killed the innocent adivasis just for the heck of it.”
The intelligence sources claimed that the local political parties in Assam are in cahoots with the militant groups to gain political mileage. “Whenever the security forces carry out offensives against NDFB, the cadres of the group often sneak into the Bhutanese territory making it difficult to track them down. This time also they did the same.” The security forces during a crackdown on the militants had recovered sophisticated arms and ammunition like M16 rifles, AK-47, grenades, etc.
Defence analyst Maj Gen (retd) Dhruv C Katoch, who had served in Assam during the peak of insurgency period said, “Despite so many attacks and killings, this time again it occurred due to poor intelligence network and bad policing. Ignoring input in an insurgency-hit area speaks of callousness and negligence, which are unpardonable.”
“The NDFB(S) has alliance with ULFA and other militant outfits, and has a strong armed cadre operating in the thick jungles, which makes operation against them difficult for the forces. As a result of the crackdown, they sneak into the Bhutanese territory, making it more difficult to track them,” added Kamboj.
The adivasis are originally the tribals from central India, Bengal and Bihar who were brought as tea-plantation workers by the British some 150 years ago. “Since then they too have the right over the land they are living at present. The Bodos consider them outsiders, along with Bengali Muslims, who were a part East Pakistan and are now in Assam. That’s why the Bodo militants are targeting them,” Singh said.
In September, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had claimed that the global terror outfit al-Qaeda might unleash an attack on the state. But, his government’s failure to tackle the home-grown militants has raised serious concerns.
“The worst aspect of it is that the militants are able to get away smoothly after hitting hundreds of people. Their nexus with local politicians cannot be ignored,” added Katoch. “Whether the joint operation of the Centre and the state will be able to rein in this growing menace is a big question. There’s a need of a strong, uncompromising political will,” added Singh.