Sensitive period

After a period of relative calm, Assam has erupted in violence again. Around 22 people, mainly migrants, have been killed in a string of attacks by militants of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). The killings were cold-blooded. In one incident, eight Arunachal Pradesh government employees were dragged out of a bus and shot at point-blank range. Many of the victims are Hindi-speaking Bihari migrants. However, the attack does not seem to be aimed so much at scaring away ‘outsiders’ as it is about provoking more violence and disrupting the peace. Less than a fortnight ago, the military wing of the NDFB had sent an email warning to the media that it would kill 20 Indians for every NDFB cadre killed by security forces in what it described as ‘fake encounters.’ A rebel leader was shot dead some weeks ago and it does seem that the serial attacks which stretched across the six districts of Assam, were a brutal implementation of that threat.

The NDFB attacks have come at a particularly sensitive time. The government is seriously exploring the possibility of beginning peace talks with the banned United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). With the exception of Paresh Barua, the ULFA’s military commander, the entire ULFA top brass is in custody and the government has been quietly talking to them on the negotiations option. With a view to easing their way to the talks table, it is reportedly considering not blocking their bail plea when it comes up in court soon. It appears that the government is trying to draw the NDFB too into the peace process. The deputy chief of the Bodoland Territorial Council met its jailed chairman recently. It is possible that an anti-talks faction of the NDFB carried out the attacks to shatter the possibility of the outfit being drawn into negotiations.

Those with a vested interest in the armed conflict continuing will do their utmost to disrupt the peace process. The business of armed conflict is lucrative and many have made millions through it. The arms-drug nexus and others who gain from keeping Assam restive can be expected to unleash violence. Those who are keen to explore the negotiation option should not allow such other provocations to distract their pursuit of a negotiated settlement to the conflict. This is a delicate period.

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