Assam is not an easy State to govern, and the Sarbanda Sonowal government is now confronted with the first terror attack just two months after taking charge. The Chief Minister has spoken of a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards terrorism, vowing that his government will not bow to pressure while tackling terrorist groups. The Home portfolio is with Sonowal, as it was with his predecessor Tarun Gogoi for 15 years straight. In that long period, there were several major terror strikes, including the 2014 December attack by the NDFB-Songbijit faction on Adivasis. This same outfit is believed to be behind the mayhem at Balajan Tiniali market in Kokrajhar on Friday. Initial reports spoke of a ‘suicide’ attack at the weekly market in broad daylight, but Fince minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has rightly pointed out that suicide attackers don’t make good their escape. Only one attacker was gunned down by soldiers while the others maged to flee. Ultras are known to move openly with arms in the entire BTAD belt bordering Bhutan; they can melt quickly into the populace minutes after a killing, and no common civilian will dare raise an alarm. Besides, where is that ‘suicide’ component in a cowardly massacre of 14 innocents — shooting down a father with a toddler in his arms, or a woman vegetable seller in the back? As in the past, it is again a cynical attempt to terrorize soft targets with an eye to make better ‘collection’ through extortion drives later on. The Assam ADGP has categorically blamed the NDFB-S for this outrage; he believes the attack was carried out to deflect ongoing security operations at the Bhutan border, where the outfit’s dreaded leader Bidai is presently said to be cornered.
Be as it may, the NDFB-S has been under continuing pressure, with three cadres gunned down in Kokrajhar only last month and several bbed in the past week. It was but a matter of time for it to try hitting back and stay relevant, particularly in the run up to 15 August. The estimated cadre strength of around 300 and regular seizures of heavy weaponry indicate the continuing firepower of NDFB-S. An NIA team has now begun probing in Kokrajhar, while police, para-military and army combing operations are on in full swing. There can be no let up in the campaign to take terrorists head on, cut their routes and supply lines and destroy their bases. The State police machinery cannot afford to take a backseat, for only it can have good eyes and ears among the people. When people are terrified of militant reprisals, it is a huge challenge to keep an efficient intelligence apparatus running on the ground. It is in inter-State coordition and taking up border magement with Bhutan and Bangladesh, where New Delhi’s role should be for the long term. Sending in additiol paramilitary units may help douse group conflicts, but neutralizing terrorists hiding among the people is a long haul of attrition. Chief Minister Sonowal has rightly said that ensuring protection to life and property is the first and foremost duty of his government. He will be judged sternly on the law and order front, in which his predecessor was found so woefully wanting. And the Modi government at the Centre should back up its words with concrete support for Assam now. The Congress too once ruled both the Centre and this State, and paid the price here for mouthing platitudes but doing little else.