Assam was still reeling from a deadly communal attack that has left 33 Muslims dead and thousands homeless when the BJP and Congress on Saturday turned it into the subject of yet another political slugfest.
Since the attacks on migrant Muslims allegedly by Bodo tribals started on Thursday, at least 50,000 people have fled their villages in the state’s Kokrajhar and Baska districts. Nine more bodies were recovered on Saturday, including four children, taking the toll to 33.As the clamour for the arrest of Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) MLA Pramila Rani Brahma — who allegedly instigated the attacks by saying Muslims had voted en masse for a non-Bodo candidate — grew, the BJP attacked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde of failing to contain the growing tension between the two communities. The PM represents Assam in the Rajya Sabha while the BPF is an ally of the ruling Congress.
"What is happening in Assam is because of the Congress’ vote-bank politics," the BJP’s Ravi Shankar Prasad said, adding that Shinde was too excited about probing Snoopgate to speak about the Assam violence. "This is the third incident of clashes between Bodos and immigrant Bangladeshis in Assam since 2008, yet adequate steps were not taken to prevent a rerun," Prasad said.
The Congress retaliated by releasing pictures allegedly culled from Twitter accounts of BJP leaders who had posted photos of incidents in Pakistan, Palestine and Bangladesh as having happened in India to communalise the atmosphere.
"The burning of the tricolour in Pakistan was shown to have been done by Bangladeshi Muslims in Assam," Union minister and Congress spokesperson Kapil Sibal said. "This underscores Narendra Modi’s agenda of dividing India."
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah, a Congress ally, also held Modi responsible for the Assam violence, saying he had branded all Muslims in the state as Bangladeshis, resulting in the attacks.
Chief minister Tarun Gogoi hinted at severing the alliance with BPF even as he announced a probe by the National Investigation Agency and said 28 people, including six forest guards, had been arrested on charges of involvement in the attacks.
The home ministry said 15 army columns have been deployed in the violence-hit areas where 43 companies of central paramilitary forces are already present. “We have reason to believe that NDFB (Sangbijit) militants deliberated killed a Bodo civilian to instigate the violence,” a ministry official said.
The affected areas, covered by the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), have seen violence since 1967 when Bodo tribals first demanded a separate state. In the early 1990s, the statehood movement started targeting Muslims, threatened by their influx from Bangladesh. Since the first attack on Muslims in 1993, more than 500 members of the community have lost their lives in half a dozen major incidents. Adivasis, brought by the British as tea plantation workers, have also become victims.
The creation of BTC in 2003 was believed to have put an end to the communal violence but major attacks in 2008 and 2012 left 108 dead, mostly Muslims.