Like the armies in the epics during warfare, the first generation of underground groups in the Northeast observed some rules. They believed only in targeted attacks on institutions of the state - specially the security forces - and targeted killings. Civilian killings, even kidnappings, were avoided. Bomb blasts in crowded places were a complete no-no. The early Naga, Mizo and Manipuri rebels were insurgents, but they were not terrorists.
Started in 1979, the United Liberation Front of Assam initially followed the same path - and made little impact. It achieved national renown for the first time only in 1990 when it simultaneously abducted 14 officials and executives from as many places in Assam. Old fashioned 'militants morality' was partially jettisoned. From 2000 the Rubicon was crossed as it began planting bombs in crowded places without compunction.
The ULFA had always struck with precision and it carried over this quality into its bombings as well.
Thursday’s 13 blasts killing 65 people across four districts in the space of 75 minutes too had precision written all over it. Yet, officials and academics say it is too early to blame the ULFA, though the possibility of its involvement is not ruled out.
"Earlier the ULFA bombed mostly areas with a high concentration of Hindi speaking people," said Noni Gopal Mahanta of Gauhati University’s Centre for Conflict Studies.
"This could be an act of desperation since ULFA is now a depleted force with two of its main companies breaking away to declare truce with the Indian state.
“However, today’s strikes seem to follow the jihadi pattern, as if to say they are capable of striking anywhere, be it in the capital of India or one of her remote corners,” Mahanta added.
The jihadi angle gains credence from the capture of one Aminur Rahman last Wednesday night at Tezpur. The man was caught with handmade explosives thathe was reportedly about to plant in a crowded market place.
“We are trying to extract information from him,” said a police spokesman, adding there was no evidence yet on Indian Mujahideen presence in the state.