Converging Conflicts in Northeast India

by Nava Thakuria, World War 4 Report

Northeast India is no stranger to conflicts. Killing and explosions have almost become the order of the day for the 50 million people of the region, which is adjacent to conflicted countries like Bangladesh and Burma.

But the series of explosions that took place in Assam on Oct. 30 have shaken the psyche and conscience of the people. Citizens of Guwahati, the capital, went on a self-imposed curfew after the attacks. Shops closed, streets emptied, and an unbelievable silence descended on the fastest growing city of India. Altogether, nine blasts rocked Assam that Thursday morning, killing over 80 and wounding nearly 400. Three explosions took place in the high-security and crowded areas of central Guwahati, including in front of the judicial buildings. Another bomb exploded in the Pan Bazar, a crowded marketplace. Another hit the Ganeshguri area, near the Legislative Assembly building and also a marketplace. Three other blasts took place in rural districts of lower Assam—Kokrajhar, Barpeta and Bongaigaon.

Significantly, all the explosions took between 11:15 and 11.45 AM, the busiest part of the day. Pinky Pradhan, an Assamese girl living in the national capital narrated her agony after the explosions, “Sitting at home in Delhi, an inconsolable anger filled me, as I helplessly watched the televised images of charred and mangled bodies, injured and shell-shocked people lying all around, sprawling in pools of blood; dismembered body parts and angry people protesting against the failure of the state machinery. Thick smoke covered the city. Metallic skeletal of cars, scooters, lied everywhere. My city, my home, my people, my identity were burning up in unquenchable flames.”

The police initially suspected the United Liberation Front of Asom (UFLA) as the sole outfit behind the handiwork. But the banned armed group promptly denied its role in the explosions. Soon the security agency started fingering foreign Islamist elements for the attacks. The first suspect was the Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI). One school of thought was that HuJI planned and supplied the materials and the local ULFA cadres implemented the heinous acts.

But the Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi went on arguing that the act was masterminded by none other than ULFA cadres. His cabinet colleague Himanta Bishwa Sarma also echoed his version. However, even they would later say—while still avoiding pronouncing the name of HuJI—that “every act of terrorism perpetrated in the state has its link with Bangladesh.”

The opposition political parties—including the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—called for the dismissal of the Gogoi government for its response to the bombings.

Meanwhile, an unknown militant organization named the “Islamic Security Force-Indian Mujahedeen” claimed responsibility for the explosions. Sending an SMS to a Guwahati-based satellite television channel, the organization also threatened further attacks. The Indian Mujahideen also claimed responsibility for recent explosions in Jaipur, Ahmedabad and New Delhi.

After three days of self-imposed curfew, Guwahati turned into a city of protest and demonstrations. Student unions and civil society groups held public meetings and candle-light processions to discuss and condemn the terror. Members of the All-Assam Students’ Union burned and hanged the effigies of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his cabinet. Two general strikes (bandhs) were observed against the violence.

The first bandh was called by BJP and its supporting organizations on Nov. 1. The second, called by AASU on Nov. 3, reached beyond the capital to Assam’s Brahmaputra and Barak valleys.

Singh and his ally United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi visited Assam during the BJP bandh. Paying respects at the attack locations and also attending to the injured in the hospitals, Singh assured that “There will be no compromise on terror.”

But it is the BJP that has most effectively claimed the issue. BJP president and prime minister candidate LK Advani was the first high-profile politician to visit the locations of the attacks in Guwahati. He arrived in Guwahati the very next morning and straight went to the locations. He was even ahead of Chief Minister Gogoi to pay visit to victims in the city. Advani criticized both the central and state governments for not taking effective legal and administrative measures to prevent the infiltration of militants from Bangladesh. He asserted that the UPA government led by the Congress Party lacks both the political will and ability to fight terror.

Most alarmingly, he repeatedly argued that the problem of terrorism in Assam is aggravated by illegal migration, and especially linked the new terror attack to undocumented Bangladeshi settlers. Claiming that there are 35 million such Bangladeshi settlers in India, Advani called upon New Delhi to impose diplomatic pressure on Dhaka
to address the issue.

A local civic group, the Asom Nagarik Samaj (Assam Citizens Society), held a public meeting Nov. 2, calling for a peace process for the state—and condemning not only the terror attacks, but the recent ethnic clashes in Darrang and Udalguri districts of Assam. Noted playwright Arun Sarma and eminent intellectual Hiren Gohain, addressing the gathering, called for all sectors of society to join together to fight against violence and terror.


Nava Thakuria is an independent journalist based in Guwahati, Assam. He writes widely for media outlets in Asia on socio-political issues in Northeast India, Burma, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal.

See also:

Jihad and Ethnic Conflict Heat Up India-Bangladesh Borderlands
by Nava Thakuria
World War 4 Report, November 2008

From our Daily Report:

India: “Deccan Mujahedeen” claim Mumbai attacks
World War 4 Report, Nov. 27, 2008


Special to World War 4 Report, Dec. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution