Raking up secret killings
The ghost of ‘secret killings’ has been raised in every assembly election in Assam since 2001, and 2016 promises to be no different. No sooner did the AGP tie up with the BJP, the ruling Congress was at it again. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi lost no time in labeling the alliance ‘opportunistic’ — though in the preceding weeks, the AGP had figured highly in the Congress scheme of ‘grand understanding’. Calling the secret killings a blot on the history of Assam, Gogoi has now blamed both the Prafulla Mahanta-led AGP regime and the then NDA government at the Centre, for being ‘equally responsible for the killing of innocent people’. It has now been left for ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia to call upon political parties not to raise the secret killings issue for electoral benefit. If the Congress wanted to do justice to the issue, it would have done so in the 15 years it has governed the State, Chetia pointed out. He also said that the ULFA has not included the secret killings issue in its agenda for talks with the Centre, as it wishes to ‘avoid controversy’ over it for the time being. After all, the horrendous secret killings in the years from 1998 to 2001 claimed around 400 lives of relatives, friends and sympathizers of ULFA militants. What came out clearly in case after case of blatant extra-judicial killings was the broad pattern of complicity between the State administration including its police apparatus, rogue elements in the army, and surrendered militants intent in setting up syndicates and making it in politics. Masked men gave the dreaded midnight knocks on doors, dragged out victims to gun them down, then drove off in unregistered vehicles. Cases were never properly investigated, no chargesheets were filed, no one was booked. The Congress made secret killings a major poll plank in 2001, and thereafter used it in the 2006 and 2011 elections as well. The JN Sharma Commission and KN Saikia Commission reports on the killings were submitted in the Assembly but the matter went nowhere and the victims have long given up hopes for justice. Compensations were handed out to some families, though the promised government jobs never materialized. The bitter lesson drawn after such large-scale, pre-planned murders is that if the crime scene is deliberately tampered with and evidence destroyed, the courts are left helpless. The media may conduct its trials and the public may have ideas about the identities of killers. But all that counts for nothing in the absence of hard evidence; there is no way courts can hand down convictions if the government machinery itself is so crimilly involved. The people of Assam have had a hard enough time in trying to move on from this dark chapter of human rights abuse, in which State power was a willing and cynical participant. The least political parties can now do is to stop milking the issue for more electoral mileage.