Thousands of people across the restive northeast on Sunday defied a shutdown called by separatists and attended India's Independence Day celebrations while the chief ministers urged the rebel groups to come for talks.
"We are happy indeed to see people rejecting calls by some militant groups to boycott the celebrations and coming out in large numbers to attend the national day function," acting Assam Chief Minister Bhumidhar Barman said soon after unfurling the national flag at a celebration here.
Barman is officiating as chief minister in the absence of Tarun Gogoi, who is recuperating in Mumbai after three heart surgeries earlier this month.
"Despite attempts by militants to stage violent attacks, our security forces managed to foil their designs with the active support and cooperation of the people," Barman said.
Five guerrilla groups in India's northeast called a 17-hour general strike Sunday to boycott the Independence Day celebrations.
The militant groups include the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), the Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), fighting for a separate homeland comprising parts of Assam and West Bengal, the Manipur People's Liberation Front (MPLF)-- an umbrella group of several Manipuri rebel groups, and the Tripura People's Democratic Front (TPDF).
These groups are active in Assam, Manipur and Tripura. As part of their boycott call Aug 15, the militant groups called for a general strike from 1.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. Sunday.
"There is an open defiance to the boycott call in Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Manipur. People participated in large numbers in the celebrations," an official said.
Militant groups in the northeast have for years boycotted national events to protest New Delhi's rule over the region.
"Violence is not an answer to any of the problems. We once again appeal to groups like ULFA and the NDFB to come for peace talks," Barman said in his Independence Day speech in Guwahati.
The chief ministers of Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura also appealed to rebel groups to come for peace talks with the government.
"Our doors for talks with militant groups are open. Problems can be resolved through negotiations and not through the barrel of the gun," Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh said.
There are some 30 rebel groups operating in the region, with demands ranging from secession to greater autonomy and the right to self-determination.