As India gets ready to unfurl the national flag from the ramparts of Delhi’s Red Fort and beyond, feeling celebratory about 60 years of Independence is not high up on the priority list of the Hindi-speaking community in Assam. Last week saw 26 migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, including eight minors and a three-month-old baby, being gunned down by members of the outlawed Karbi Longri National Liberation Front (KLNLF) and United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa). The situation is still tense, with Hindi-speaking people fearing more targeted killings. The latest round of killings in Assam sees a bifurcation in the Ulfa-KLNLF’s strategy. Earlier attacks by the Ulfa on Hindi-speakers in the state were mainly conducted in and around the districts within the Brahmaputra valley — most notably the horrific mowing down of more than 80 ‘outsiders’ in January. The latest attempt to wed local disaffection over land acquisition by farmers from UP and Bihar to its secessionist cause needs to be handled by the Government of India with toughness and immediacy.
It’s ironic that the people of Karbi Anglong district were originally pushed from the valley to the hills by settlers whose cause the Ulfa claims to represent today. Today, it is the Hindi-speaking settler that has turned into their joint target. The target, too, has changed profile. Instead of earlier attacks on symbols and representatives of the state, the militants have now turned their guns on innocent, apolitical civilians. If in 2003, the Ulfa tried to turn the spark of the molestation of Assamese women in a train in Bihar into a full-fledged bushfire, during the last few months, the violence has come out of a desperate vacuum.
New Delhi’s approach to the problem has, unfortunately, not been helpful. The KLNLF, a breakaway group of the United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) wants a ‘self-rule’ territory for the Karbi people. With Delhi’s on-and-off parleys with the Ulfa going nowhere, the Ulfa has helped in arming and training the KLNLF. Home minister Shivraj Patil would do well to pull out all the stops to see that Indians — locals and migrants — in Assam live their lives without having to constantly look over their shoulders. For 60-year-young India to be celebratory as a free nation, it has to be inclusive and worried enough to defend its own people from dangers within.