The much anticipated KN Saikia Commission report, tabled in the assembly on Thursday, has held Assam’s “police hierarchy up to the home minister” responsible for the extra-judicial killing of militants and their relatives during the late 1990s. The report, thus, indicts former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who was home minister during that period.
The report recommends the gradual dismantling of the existing Unified Command Structure (UCS), set up during Mahanta’s tenure to counter the United Liberation Front of Assam and other insurgent groups active in the state. The UCS is headed by the Indian Army.
According to the Saikia report, the police helped or actually executed the extra-judicial killings that came to be known as “guptahoitya” or “secret killings”. The panel probed 35 cases of what it has termed the “remote orchestration of Ulfocide”. All the victims were either Ulfa activists or their relatives, and were killed in an identical “drag-and-shoot” manner.
Along with the report and the government’s action taken report, the earlier J.N. Sarma Commission report on the secret killings was also filed, following a Gauhati High Court directive on Wednesday. The Sarma report, completed in 2005, had given Mahanta a clean chit, finding no evidence “to condemn the police or the authority”.
The killings were largely responsible for the anti-Asom Gana Parishad wave in 2001 that saw the Congress sweep the assembly polls. Immediately after assuming power, Tarun Gogoi had ordered an inquiry into the guptahoitya, first under Justice Meera Sarma, then under J.N. Sarma and finally under Saikia.
What could have greater implications than Mahanta’s indictment is the government’s consideration of the Saikia panel’s suggestion to dismantle the UCS, believed to be a potent strategy against militancy. Mahanta was quick to pounce on this. “Besides being politically biased and malicious, this report is a clear example of the Congress-led government’s appeasement of militants prior to the panchayat polls,” he said. He said he was relieved by the tabling of the reports as that should “put an end to all these years of blackmailing”. He termed Gogoi’s rejection of the Sarma report as “typical Congress culture” of manipulating the judiciary.
The Congress, on its part, termed the Saikia report a reflection of the “reign of terror” under Mahanta.