From anti-ULFA to anti-army protests in Assam
Recurring incidents of excesses and charges of staged shootouts by counter-insurgency forces in Assam has changed the tide from vibrant anti-militant protests to widespread anger against those fighting terror.
Barely a couple of months back, the hills and dales of Assam were reverberating with echoes of people shouting anti-militant slogans - close to 100 people were butchered since January in a string of bloody attacks and bombings.
All the attacks were blamed on the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), a rebel group fighting for an independent Assamese homeland since 1979.
New Delhi responded immediately by resuming a military offensive against the ULFA. Never before did Assam witness such revulsions against the ULFA - protests were staged across the state with a multitude of people taking to the streets.
But in matter of weeks, the protests changed gear with the tone shifting from anti-militant to anti-army with federal soldiers making a number of unnecessary goof-ups by committing excesses on civilians and indulging in shootouts involving innocents.
For the past one week, Assam is reeling under a wave of anti-army protests over the killing of 24-year-old Buddheswar Moran in eastern Assam's Tinsukia district in an alleged 'encounter' (euphemism for staged shootouts) last weekend - army authorities earlier this week admitted it was an 'unfortunate incident' and ordered a probe.
Security analysts said frequent bungling by the army could boomerang.
"Incidents of fake killings, torture, and excesses, by the army in the name of countering militancy would further alienate the masses," former Assam police chief Hare Krishna Deka told IANS.
"To prolong intervention militarily in a civil conflict situation is a wrong policy and the government should try and resolve the problem through negotiations immediately."
Across eastern Assam, thousands of people blocked highways and shouted anti-army slogans over the killing of Moran - the army earlier claimed he was a 'hardcore ULFA' rebel. Locals refuted the charges and said Moran was a private guard at a tea plantation and had no militant links.
The army engaged in anti-insurgency operations in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh is under fire over frequent allegations of rights violations, torture of innocent civilians, and fake encounters while conducting raids.
"You cannot allow state-sponsored terrorism to continue in a democratic country," warned Lachit Bordoloi, who heads the Manab Adhikar Sangram Samity (MASS), a leading rights group in Assam.
The excesses committed by the army have given the ULFA the much needed arm to bounce back and enlist public sympathy.
"The mounting anti-army protests vindicate our stand that the army has been unleashing terror on innocent civilians. The army should go back immediately," ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa said in a statement Friday.
Earlier this week the army tendered an apology to the Arunachal Pradesh government after government lawmakers alleged atrocities committed on locals by soldiers while conducting raids on ULFA bases.
In July last year, the army punished Major Nishant Sharma and Rifleman Sudip Gurung after finding the duo guilty of killing a villager in custody - the court of inquiry was ordered after widespread public protests in eastern Assam.
In December, the army was mired in yet another row over torture in custody of a separatist suspect. Army authorities were later forced to apologize and order a court of inquiry after Nipul Saikia, a farmer, was picked up by soldiers and was seriously injured while in custody.
Top army commanders later apologized for the incident following mounting public upsurge.