My friend, RN Ravi, who retired in May as IB’s Special Director was in-charge of the North-east for a number of years and knows the inside stories of how north-east is treated in the corridors of power. He has started writing on the region’s affairs quite regularly since he demitted office. But this piece in The Statesman last Monday is particularly hard-hitting and deserves to be read by all right thinking people.
And lest any one thinks that all government officers criticise governments only after they retire, let me assure you that Ravi was as outspoken while in service as he is in this write up!
So I have taken the liberty and his permission to reproduce the article in full here. Read on and draw your own conclusions.
IT has been over a month and the conflagration in Assam is not yet fully doused. In its trail are some 80 dead and several hundred thousand homeless. Several thousand panic-stricken North-easterners in different parts of the country, fearing reprisals, rushed home to safety. Governments — the Union and the state — instead of confronting the pathology that breeds such scenarios are scrambling to set right their optics through cosmetic measures.
The Centre dispatched a CBI team to Kokrajhar, the epicentre of the riots, to do its magic. As expected, the CBI could not cast its spell. Instead, it got into a controversy. Bodo organisations dubbed it partisan because a Muslim officer led the team. Induction of the CBI to the scene of an active riot is nothing but a red herring to con the people and deflect their ire from a predatory government that has long ceased to be a protector of its citizens and wilfully abandoned its part of the social contract.
In recent years, a dangerously sinister situation has emerged in Assam. The state has got into symbiotic relations with, one after another, numerous non-state militias. It fosters them with the taxpayers’ money, ignores their day-to-day retail and wholesale criminal depredations and uses them in pursuit of its cynical politics to gain and retain power.
Between them there is a conspiracy of cynical silence. In this insidious equation between the two, the ordinary folks are mere disposable variables and inconsequential collaterals.
It all began with the Union and the state governments soliciting the Bodo Liberation Tigers, a militia with track records of insane violence, with a hefty moneybag and unexpected political powers in February 2003. The BLT leaders received hundreds of crores of rupees as solicitation money besides an institutionalised hegemony over 35 per cent of the state’s territory and its inhabitants that became the Bodoland Territorial Area District. It is public knowledge that the prodigal leaders of the outfit, awash in cash spoils of the deal, showered expensive gifts, including BMW and Mercedes cars, on their beloveds and fiancés. Political power was handed over to them on a platter — not by the people but on their back!
It was left to the BLT to decommission as many of their foot soldiers and weapons as they chose to notify. They retrenched mostly their elderly cadres and old weapons and retained their core lethal capacity disguised as volunteers of sorts. They are used for suppressing any potential challenge to the BLT’s hegemony, including the likely emergence of an alternative Bodo voice. They are the main suspects in several riots including the current ones. In the 2006 elections they helped a teetering Congress party retain political power.
When a sullen and intransigent National Democratic Front of Boroland, a rival militia not yet in cahoots with the state, killed more than 50 innocent non-Bodos in three days of a frenzied death-dance beginning 2 October 2004, the birthday of arguably the greatest prophet of non-violence in modern history, and in its wake wrote to Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi asking him to send his troops to barracks and have a deal with them, he promptly obliged them. Counter-insurgency was stopped and a charade of peace-talks began.
In order to determine the size of the moneybag, as an interim sop, when asked to submit the list of their cadres, they gave a staggering list of 1,027 to the state intelligence chief. Central and state agencies were unanimous that the outfit was never near so large and at the time did not have more than 150 boys. In December 2003, the outfit was decimated in Operation All Clear of Bhutan, where its critical assets were located. However, the grossly inflated claim was promptly accepted by the state even without a semblance of scrutiny. They received fatter solicitation money commensurate with the projected size.
While at “peace”, the NDFB continued its violent depredations. Its traumatic terrorist act – the high intensity serial blasts on 30 October 2008 in lower Assam — killed 90 and disabled for life more than 350 people, shocked the country and catapulted Assam onto the map of international terrorism. An outraged state in one voice cried for justice and demanded the state immediately call off the farcical “show of peace” with the promiscuous killers.
Insensitive to the collective despair and popular outrage, the state refused to stop mollycoddling the killers. The tragicomedy again came to the fore when the outfit abducted Vilas Bardekar, a senior officer of the Indian Forest Service, and released him after 80 days on 1 August 2010, only after extracting Rs 1 crore in ransom. The state, at peace with the abductors, acted as a broker in the safe transfer of the ransom money.
On 11 February 2010, Gogoi, flanked by his police chief, three-star generals of the Indian Army and senior officers of the Union home ministry, shook hands with 412 purported gunmen of the Karbi Longri NC Hills Liberation Front, a tribal militia. They had wreaked widespread havoc on common folk and had chosen, at their convenience, to respond to the enticing solicitations of the state. Of them, more than 250 were innocent boys who had nothing to do with militancy and were forcibly corralled, from villages, into the fold by the KLNLF days before the public show. When I brought this to the notice of then Union home minister P Chidambaram, in Gogoi’s presence, they exchanged cynical glances and moved on with the insidious farce.
These boys were soon trained into hardcore terrorists in the designated camps of the outfit under the benign eyes of the state. The Dima Halam Daogah (Jewel Garlosa), a Dimasa tribal militia, was raised in 2005 with patronage of a minister from the same tribe in the state cabinet for securing his shaky seat in the elections due the next year. It unleashed unrestrained terror in the North Cachar Hills district and killed over 300 persons, mostly labourers engaged in infrastructure development works.
The intensity of their terror compelled the Centre to set the National Investigation Agency — the main anti-terror entity created in the aftermath of the 26 November 2008 attack on Mumbai — after them. The NIA, indeed, had a tough time chasing the terrorist leaders who enjoyed state protection. Finally when they were nabbed outside Assam, the state government hired a bungalow in Guwahati, notified it a jail and lodged them there with all conveniences, including orderlies, cook, laptops and telephones. Chidambaram was persuaded to rein in the NIA and facilitate their release soon.
Luxuriant friendliness has been extended to renegades of the United Liberation Front of Asom, a militia with pan-Assam pretensions and considered emotionally closer to the state government. In fact, other militias in cahoots with the state often accuse it of being stepmotherly to them in comparison.
The happy coexistence of the state with non-state militias is a matter of state policy. With the air of an evangelist, Chidambaram informed the Parliamentary Committee of the home ministry on 9 February 2011 that the non-state militias were not “criminals” and the policy of his government was of “forgiveness and reconciliation” with all of them! Of course, no compassion or justice for thousands dead and disabled by them!
So long as the gun is the preferred currency of power and exchange between state and non-state actors and people are mere collateral, peace will neither be redemptive nor sustainable. Isn’t it preposterous even to think of it?
The author is a recently retired special director, Intelligence Bureau, and can be contacted at email@example.com