An Adivasi student leader was killed in western Assam's Kokrajhar district Tuesday morning in what is being termed as a 'political murder', the first linked with the ensuing assembly polls.
Unidentified, motorcycle-borne assailants shot Bosco Chermako, 34, point blank at Jacobpur near the Assam-West Bengal border around 10am as he was driving home from the residence of his in-laws.
He was the president of the All Adivasi Students' Association of Assam (Aasaa) and was planning to contest the Gossaigaon assembly seat held by the Bodoland Peoples' Front (BPF).
The BPF is an ally of the ruling Congress in Assam.
"He died on the spot after being shot with automatic rifles from a very close range," said superintendent of police P K Dutta from Kokrajhar town, 250 km west of Guwahati.
"It's too early to say who could be behind his killing."
Bodo and Adivasi tribal militants are active in the area but no militant group has claimed responsibility for the fatal attack on Chermako less than 24 hours after suspected Ulfa rebels targeted a Congress leader in eastern Assam's Tinsukia district.
But Aasaa "has a hunch" that a "political conspiracy" got Chermako.
"His was a political murder. He was spearheading democratic movements for the rights of Adivasis besides preparing to contest the forthcoming polls," the association's leader Rafael Kujur told HT.
The Aasaa has called a 12-hour 'Assam bandh' on Wednesday demanding the arrest of the assailants.
"We will intensify our agitation if the authorities fail to arrest them," Kujur said.
The Adivasis, popularly known as 'tea tribe', comprise 18% of Assam's population and hold the key to 23 of 126 assembly seats. As en block voters, they rank next to Muslims who account for 32% population and decide the fate of 52 seats.
The Congress has traditionally banked on both Muslims and Adivasis to be in power in Assam. The Asom Gana Parishad and BJP have in the past 15 years have made inroads across the tea-growing belts dominated by the Adivasis.