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Serial Blasts in Assam: Are Planners and Perpetrators Different?

Dr Anand Kumar is Associate Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. Click here for detailed profile
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  • December 24, 2008

    The October 30, 2008 serial blasts in Assam were the most horrific that the state has witnessed till date. These blasts have completely confused the investigating agencies, which still seem to be focusing only upon the foot soldiers while the real masterminds are sitting happily in Bangladesh and congratulating their points men in India for doing a good job.

    The initial suspects were Islamist extremists of Bangladesh, who were supposed to have carried out the attacks in retaliation after clashes between the indigenous Bodos and Muslim migrants from Bangladesh forced 200,000 people to seek shelter in refugee camps. Moreover, in September 2008, the Army had shot dead seven suspected HuJI operatives near Boraibari village 30 kilometres from the India-Bangladesh border in Assam’s Dhubri district. Some of the congratulatory messages intercepted by the security forces and emanating from Bangladesh hinted at the involvement of Islamist groups in Bangladesh. The SMS received in the name of "Islamic Security Force – Indian Mujahiddin" gave further credence to this theory.

    However, the investigating agencies were completely baffled when it made some arrests and found that cadres of the outlawed Bodo group, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), were involved in the blasts. It is important to note here that the NDFB is in ceasefire with the Government of India. So far 15 cadres of NDFB and ULFA have been arrested in the wake of the blasts. The police have also confirmed that all vehicles including the three Maruti cars used in the blasts were procured by NDFB cadres. The arrested cadres of NDFB have confessed to their crime. The involvement of ULFA, though on a smaller scale, is also suspected.

    Both NDFB and ULFA have denied any involvement in the blasts. But this does not absolve these groups of the crime. All insurgent groups of Assam now deny terror acts after carrying them out to avoid negative publicity. For instance, ULFA denied its involvement in the Dhemaji blasts in which 13 women and children were killed. But later its involvement was proved convincingly. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi says it is possible that ULFA and NDFB may disown the persons arrested in connection with these blasts.

    The Union government has speculated that the NDFB may be afflicted by factionalism. While the outfit’s chief interlocutor for the peace talks, Gobinda Basumatary, may support peaceful and practical settlement of NDFB’s demands, its top commander Ranjan Daimary, said to be holed up in Bangladesh from where he frequently travels to south-east Asian destinations like Bangkok, is reportedly unwilling to compromise on the outfit’s central demand for sovereignty. It was suspected that Daimary may have engineered these blasts along with HuJI and ULFA to assert his faction’s supremacy and oppose any dilution of the NDFB’s demands. Interestingly, despite the fact that more than three years have elapsed since the declaration of the Centre-NDFB ceasefire, the Ministry of Home Affairs is yet to establish any direct contact with Daimary. Even if one were to accept the theory that the NDFB has split and that the Ranjan Daimary faction is responsible for the October 30 blasts, the question still arises as to why it chose to carry out the blasts in the immediate aftermath of clashes between Bodos and Bangladeshi migrants.

    To make matters worse, a Bhutanese national Tenzing Zangpo was arrested from Guwahati on November 12 along with the home secretary of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) named Sabin Boro. Zangpo is a senior leader of the Druk National Congress, which was formed by Bhutanese exiles in Nepal. ULFA and NDFB are known to have had camps in Bhutan for more than ten years before they were destroyed in 2003 in a military operation. Recent reports indicate that ULFA and NDFB are trying once again to create bases in Bhutan. But as far as the recent blasts are concerned, the Bhutanese group could have at best played the role of a facilitator.

    The Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the serial explosions in Assam is still trying to identify the masterminds of the blasts. It is planning to carry out narco analysis tests on two suspects - Bimal Mushahary and Phungkha Brahma - both members of the outlawed NDFB. But it is possible that the narco tests may not reveal anything since they are not privy to the larger conspiracy.

    We thus seem to have reached full circle and the needle of suspicion has once again come to rest on Bangladesh. Investigators are gradually coming round to the view that a third force other than ULFA and NDFB was also involved in the Assam blasts and that force actually could be the mastermind. ULFA and NDFB thus only provided local help in carrying out their designs.

    Reports have indicated that nearly four months back a group of NDFB cadres entered Assam after undergoing training in Bangladesh. Though the outfit is in a ceasefire agreement with the government since 2005, it has continued to recruit over 1,400 cadres. It is possible that NDFB was compelled to do the bidding of the HuJI given that two of its battalions are currently undergoing training in Bangladesh.

    The increasing pressure on illegal Bangladesh migrants and crackdown on HuJI has infuriated the anti-India section in Bangladesh. Indian insurgent groups like NDFB and ULFA, which are operating from Bangladesh with the connivance of Bangladesh intelligence agencies, probably acted at their direction. It is possible that Islamist extremist groups of Bangladesh purposely avoided direct involvement in these blasts, since it could have led to retaliation against the illegal Bangladeshi population in Assam.

    The Assam serial blasts indicate that the control of Bangladesh over north-eastern insurgent groups is complete. It can use them to create disturbance in India at a time of its choice. The blasts were also meant to send a message to the local population that such miseries would come to them if they act against Bangladeshis. The actual planners and masterminds of Assam serial blasts may never be known since they are sitting safely in Bangladesh. But one thing is sure that the catastrophe in Assam could not have happened without the close collaboration of elements within Bangladesh. It is time India took up this issue with Bangladesh in a strong manner.