April 05, 2020
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Powder Burns

The blasts probe is narrowing down to the NDFB. Will it be proved?

Powder Burns
Powder Burns
It took exactly 11 days for IGP R. Chandranathan and his colleagues in the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to conclude that a cocktail of terror elements were behind the October 30 serial blasts in Assam that killed 89 and injured 800. Now, nearly a month after the attacks, the SIT is convinced that the main player in the bombings was the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), an insurgent group seeking an independent Bodo tribal homeland. The group has had a ceasefire agreement with the Centre since May 25, 2005. The SIT feels the NDFB was "backed by the ULFA, and certain forces based in Bangladesh".

The NDFB, formed in 1986, has in the past indulged in killings, kidnappings and extortions, even bomb explosions. Now, it is being directly implicated in an attack of such magnitude, which is in complete violation of the ceasefire. Documents with the SIT, some of which are with Outlook, show that the three Maruti cars used in the explosions in Guwahati have been traced to NDFB cadres who had purchased/driven them to the blast sites. One of them, Thungri Narzari, had driven the bomb-laden car and parked it near the chief judicial magistrate's court in Guwahati, the scene of one of the blasts.

Of the 20 people arrested, four are NDFB cadre. This includes the November 12 arrest in Guwahati of ex-NDFB 'home secretary' Sabin Boro. The outfit claims Boro was expelled some time ago and that Narzari is not one of their members. The SIT isn't surprised by the NDFB's denials. What did was the presence in Boro's house of a wanted man in Bhutan, Tenzing G. Zangpo, who was also arrested. 'General secretary' of a faction of the Nepal-based Druk National Congress, Zangpo had absconded from Bhutan in '91 after embezzling funds while working as a rural credit officer in Chukha district.

While seeking remand, the SIT told the CJM in Guwahati that the decision to carry out the explosions was taken at a meeting at Boro's house on October 17. Zangpo is a "close associate and gave all logistic support and guidance" to Boro, the investigators told the court, adding that the latter was "motivated to waging (war) against India". Boro's rented house, a police report added, was frequented by "various cadre of the NDFB and other like-minded members of other organisations...."

Several questions arise here. Has the NDFB split into pro- and anti-peace talk factions? Assam CM Tarun Gogoi was categorical: "We have identified those behind the blasts. But I feel the forces that supplied the explosives, funds and the strategy are based in Bangladesh." Was Gogoi referring to the Bangladesh-based Islamist groups who may have backed the home-grown insurgencies or was it the NDFB and ULFA leadership, also known to be operating from there? A clear answer wasn't forthcoming.

Zangpo, says a top SIT official, had purchased 50 kg of TNT from the NDFB in June '07. "We have given his details to the central authorities and are hoping agencies in Bhutan will provide further inputs," the official adds. Zangpo's arrest has convinced the police that the NDFB or some of its cadre have been "indulging in unlawful activities" at their designated government-facilitated camps.

Some 1,027 NDFB cadre, except the married ones, are said to be living in three designated camps at Kokrajhar, Udalguri and Borbori in the western Baksa district. In fact, security forces had raided the Borbori camp recently and picked up a few of the cadre. Some of them were later released.

Unless the investigating authorities are able to present a foolproof case, questions are bound to be raised about the SIT's claims. The NDFB has categorically denied its involvement, saying "vested interests" are trying to sabotage its peace efforts with New Delhi The authorities on their part point to an NDFB video which surfaced after the ceasefire in 2005 that shows NDFB chairman Ranjan Daimary alias D.R. Nabla inspecting a 'passing out parade' and urging the cadre to keep fighting for an independent homeland. Indications are that after the latest findings, the Centre is seriously considering whether or not to extend the ceasefire beyond December 31, when the current truce term expires. If the truce is extended, the suspicion that the NDFB has split into two factions will certainly gain credence.

And what of the ULFA's role? Well, nothing substantial has come out on that. The ULFA has of course denied any hand. But subsequent statements from the top leaders have led to some confusion. While ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa blamed the RSS, the group's military chief Paresh Baruah said the "Indian colonial rulers" were behind the blasts. The issue of the text message sent to a local TV station in which an unheard of outfit called the Islamic Security Force (Indian Mujahideen) had claimed responsibility has faded into oblivion.

Nazir Ahmed, a young man arrested from Dhing in central Assam's Morigaon district on suspicion of being the owner of the SIM card used to send the text message, is languishing in jail though. "The subscriber details filed with the service provider were false," explains an sit official. The investigators, it seems, have to prove a lot of things. Whether Nazir was the real owner of the SIM card is just one of them.

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