Trade bodies, usually wary of rubbing rebels the wrong way, hit back at the outlawed Ulfa with a 24-hour bandh on Monday while serving the Assam government a seven-day deadline to solve the militancy problem or face an indirect 'economic blockade'.
Though Monday’s bandh was limited to Kamrup district—it houses the State capital—its impact was felt across the region because of Guwahati’s strategic location vis-à-vis trade and commerce. The bandh to protest the killing of eight persons in the Athgaon blast on Saturday was called by a conglomerate of 28 trade bodies and chambers of commerce.
The bandh coincided with a 12-hour city closure by both the AGP and BJP and rubbed the sheen off the Tarun Gogoi government’s euphoria after completing one year in power. Schools, colleges and other educational institutions remained closed while vehicles were off the roads. Train services and flights were, however, not disrupted.
“Traders have been bearing the brunt of recent subversive attacks,” said Vijay Kumar Gupta, vice-chairman of the Kamrup Chamber of Commerce. “The government must find a way out of this law and order mess or it would be responsible for economic hardships in the State.”
Gupta was referring to at least nine blasts in the past two months—all were in Fancy Bazar-Machkhowa-Athgaon area considered the commercial hub of the entire region—that killed at least 10 persons. He also said that the situation in Assam has made suppliers of commodities from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and other states reluctant to dispatch goods on credit.
“Assam and the rest of the region are primarily consumer states, and since dealing in essential goods requires huge investment, we depend on the credit supply pattern,” Gupta said, adding a break in the pattern would hit business in the region.
Top traders said this could lead to scarcity of commodities and resultant rice in prices. And with Ulfa targeting almost all traders with extortion, it could lead to an indirect economic blockade, they feared.
Meanwhile, Tarun Gogoi has vowed stern action against Ulfa, lamenting that its serial blasts were pushing Assam to the verge of devastation. “Violence has definitely slowed down our progress, but we're determined to deal with the situation,” he said.