Battling a fragile law and order situation for the third straight day, Assam remained tense as the death toll mounted to 85.
Since 23 December, Assam has witnessed a spate of killings by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) rebels and subsequent retaliatory attacks on the Bodo community in Assam’s Kokrajhar and Sonitpur districts.
While an operation to flush out rebels has begun on the Assam – Arunachal Pradesh border in Sonitpur, a dawn-to-dusk bandh is being observed in the state, even as reports of protests are pouring in from across Assam.
Meanwhile, the death toll has mounted to 85, with about 100 people injured and undergoing treatment in hospitals across the state. Thousands of people from the Adivasi and Bodo community have taken shelter in relief camps in Sonitpur, Kokrajhar and Chirang district.
In the wake of the carnage, a 12-hour Assam bandh — from 5am to 5pm — has been called by the Adibasi National Council with support from All Adivasi Students’ Association, All Assam Tea Students’ Association and All Bodo Students’ Union.
The bandh has paralysed normal life of Assam.
Since Friday morning, several instances of arson and stone pelting of public buses have been reported from various places in the state. The bandh supporters have also blocked the Silghat-Guwahati Express railway line and attacked several trains. The state capital Guwahati was also affected by the bandh.
Meanwhile, to restore normalcy in the state, the Assam Rifles have been deployed, along with up to 5,000 paramilitary personnel, even as the Assam Police have been asked to ensure civilian protection.
Operation All Out launched
A special operation named Operation All Out has been launched along the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border to flush out militants of the NDFB(S).
At the time of filing this report, a combined force of up to 9,000 soldiers of the Assam Rifles and paramilitary troopers is currently engaged in the operation to take out militants in Assam’s Sonitpur district.
With the Army exercising full command and control over the two-tier Operation All Out, there are at least 8,000 soldiers currently out on the ground. To prevent militants from escaping into Myanmar and Bangladesh, the Army has also pressed its helicopters into service.
In retaliatory attacks, several Bodo houses in the Gossaigaon area of Kokrajhar district were set ablaze by Adivasis, despite an indefinite curfew in the district.
On 25 December, five Adivasis were killed in police firing on protesters. These protestors then came out on the streets of Dekiajuli in Sonitpur district, along with the dead bodies of the Adivasis.
Home Minister rules out peace talks with NDFB
The Centre has initiated a probe by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) into the spate of violence in Assam and already provided 50 companies of paramilitary forces to the state.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has also ruled out any peace talks with NDFB(S), with New Delhi also sending out missives to Myanmar and Bhutan — where NDFB(S) is believed to have hideouts – asking for help in flushing out the rebels.
During a visit to Biswanath Chariali in Sonitpur district on 25 December, Singh told reporters, “We will take strong measures to deal with the outfit and will control it effectively. The Centre has adopted a zero-tolerance policy against all acts of terror and a similar policy will be adopted in this case too.”