Adivasi massacre didn't turn into ethnic violence due to Centre's quick response: Bishnoi

Inspector General of Police (BTAD), Dr LR Bishnoi, has been heading various posts like DIG and IGP (Eastern range) in Assam Police since 1992. Bodo Territorial Area District comprises four areas of lower Assam- Kokrajhar, Baksa, Udalgiri and Chirang.

An IPS officer of 1991 batch, IGP Bishnoi hails from Hisar in Haryana. In 1992, he was allotted Assam and Meghalaya cadre and joined as SDPO, Udalguri (which was the hotbed of Bodo militancy).

In an exclusive interview with Sushmita Dutta of Zee Media Group, Dr Bishnoi, talks about a range of issues related with NDFB(S) operations. Following are excerpts:

What was the reason behind the recent Adivasi massacre by NDFB(S) militants?

IGP Bishnoi: On December 21, we arrested two NDFB(S) militants from Chirang reserve forest area. To reach this place we had to pass through the Adivasi(tribal) village, this might have propelled the insurgents to think that the villagers are helping the forces, which might have triggered the violence.

What was the death toll and how was year 2014 in terms of security situation?

IGP Bishnoi: In 2014, two ethnic violence incidents took place - first one in May, against the Muslims, in which 45 people of the minority community were killed. The second one took place in December, against the Adivasi community. In BTAD districts the total death toll was - 37 (8 Bodos, 2 Bengalis, 27 adivasis) whereas the total causalities in entire Assam which include (Sonitpur, Bishwanath Chariali and BTAD) were – 78 (63 Aadivasi, 13 Bodo, 2 Bengalis).

However in terms of armed operation, 2014, was a good year, since we achieved quite a few successes. Apart from militants, we even recovered 16-AK series rifles, 121 pistols and 2,533 ammunitions of various weapons.

What about the casualties that police suffered during the combat operations?

IGP Bishnoi: In the last three years, only in the BTAD areas – police suffered just two casualties. First one was SI Narayan Burman in the Ruksin area of the Kokrajhar district in September 2013, and another was a constable who was killed in 2012.

What kind of training is being provided to Commandos?

IGP Bishnoi: We have our own commandos of Assam Police known as ‘Black Panther’. They are quick, well trained, very loyal, expert in anti-insurgency operations. Secondly, we have our own groups known as the PRC (Police Ranger Cops) and other than the commando training they are also trained in the jungle warfare training - so that they can survive in the jungle independently even for seven days and conduct operations.

Then there are provisions of refresher courses. Also, we provide training to our forces with Army at Harchora School (Jungle warfare) in Tejpur. So, training is a continuous and ongoing process.

Tell us something about your operations under which the chief recruiting officer of Bodo militant outfit NDFB(S), Enon Bargoyary alias Erkhang, was arrested.

IGP Bishnoi: He was arrested on January 13, 2015, in a joint operation by the Kokrajhar district police and 18th Mahar Regiment. The forces nabbed him from the jungle area in Bijli, which is in north of Amguri district along with 6-7 other militants.

What about the alleged brain behind the massacre, Jagat Basumatary?

IGP Bishnoi: Jagat Basumatary was killed in a joint operation on Jan 9, 2015, by the Kokrajhar police along with the SSB. Army was not involved in it. The encounter took place at north of Khaosi Bazar near Amguri, which is also a reserve forest area. Jagat was directly involved in the Pakhriguri massacre in Kokrajhar in which 5 Adivasis were killed. He was confronted after getting inputs from two-three cadres who were arrested earlier.

What initiatives are being taken to capture the faction head Songbijit?

IGP Bishnoi: As per available inputs Songbijit in not in Assam, he may be in Myanmar. However, information based operation is going on in Assam to nab him.

What challenges do the security forces have to face while taming these militants?

IGP Bishnoi: There are many challenges that the security forces have to face:

First and the biggest one, the inhospitable reserve forest and the hilly areas. These terrains are so difficult that vehicles cannot go inside hence the operational party sometimes have to walk for many kilometres to hunt militants.

Secondly, we have inadequate intelligence. Bodos are a close knot community and are averse to sharing inputs with outsiders. And if we send non-Bodos, they can be easily identified because of their features. So, digging out information becomes extremely hard.

Third is the language problem. Non-Bodos generally do not understand the difficult Bodo language.

Cross border linkage is the fourth challenge. The Bodos militants have links with other militant groups like NSCN and ULFA, who constantly keep helping each other.

The regular recruitment of new militants is the fifth challenge. On a regular basis, new boys keep on joining this banned outfit, due to which the demand of arms and ammunitions also grows. We can counter the militants only when there is a check on the recruitment and on arms supply, both are directly related to each other. Unless this nexus is broken, it is very difficult to put a check on these insurgents.

What is the source of arms supply to these cadres?

IGP Bishnoi: So far, it seems that basically these factions are getting ammunitions from the Dimapur side through Nagaland Mon area. There are two sources of supply from Nagalnd. One is from the NSCN (Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland). Second, since they have established their own camps in Myanmar, they may be in direct touch with the arms suppliers of that area, so they might be getting brand new weapons from there. With NSCN there is no dearth of advance weapons which they even provide to other militant groups of the North-East.

Who are linkmen and how are they helpful to these militants?

IGP Bishnoi: In every Bodo village, there are at least 8-10 linkmen who help the NDFB (S) militants. They generally carry out field activities for militants, who are also responsible for all illegal activities like kidnapping, extortion and threatening people. Linkmen also transfer weapons and carry ration for militants. They are local inhabitants, who also pass information about movement of troops to militants. They are as dangerous as actual terrorists.

Are children and women also being targeted by these militants?

IGP Bishnoi: NDFB(S) militants generally resort to indiscriminate firing and do not distinguish between male, female or children. Generally, they become soft targets as they can’t run and hide like others. Their aim is to cause maximum causality and infuse fear into the masses. In the recent massacre, out of the total 27 Adivasis killed, nine were adult females, two were female kids and three were male children (almost 50% of the total casualty). When they kill in masses, age is not a matter for these militants- it could even be an infant!

Kindly tell us something about the ‘Unified Command’ and about its role in the region?

IGP Bishnoi: ‘Unified Command’ is a three tier organisation which unifies all the agencies like BSF, ITBP, SSB, Police, Civil Administration etc. The two important part of the command are strategic and the operational group. The strategic group is chaired by the chief secretary and the later is headed by the GOC Fore Core.

The ops group discusses planning and execution. On the other hand, the strategic group discusses some of the civil issues through the civil admin department and is not much directly related to operations.

The third tier is the DLCC (District Level Co-ordination Committee) which has to perform co-ordination within the district as and when information comes. All three departments share information and accordingly an operation is being undertaken. Co-ordination among the ‘Unified Command’ is absolutely perfect and we co-ordinate before, after and during the operation constantly.

Is the involvement of NIA helping in operations? What kind of help are you getting from the Central government?

IGP Bishnoi: Being a national investigative agency, NIA has a wider network than Assam Police. They have their offices and establishments throughout India. So, as and when they get information, they are free to conduct search operations. They generally share information with us if it is related to any jungle area.

After the recent violence, we got immediate help from the Central government. They rushed 36 companies particularly for the BTAD areas, while 56 companies were given for the entire state. So, this time within 24-hrs of the carnage, we got help from the Centre, due to which the spread was contained and it was not allowed to turn into an ethnic violence. The MHA also keep conducting review meetings.

What is the status of Maoist activities in Assam?

IGP Bishnoi: Although Maoists are not active in the BTAD areas, their presence is active in 9-10 districts, mainly in Tinsukia, Golaghat, Lakhimpur, Kamrup, Nagaon etc. But their activities are primarily in the first stage, where they are creating awareness about their ideologies from village to village. They have not yet achieved their operational stage where they need to face the Army or the security forces. But in future, Naxals can pose a greater challenge as they can easily exploit villagers of the remote areas of Assam which lack in development. Then can lure the rural minds and elevate them to the second and third stages. Basically, there are three stages - Dormant, mobile, guerrilla and then operational. Till now, Maoists are one there first stage only.

Is there any possibility of NDFB(S) and Maoists coming together?

IGP Bishnoi: So far, no such report has come to our information as both are in different stages and also their aims are different. Maoists spread irrespective of any community whereas NDFB(S) militants belong to the Bodo community, so immediate co-ordination or co-operation has not come to our notice. But once Maoists have a stable support base they will step up to the second stage where they will need arms for their cadres. So, at that stage seeking help from other militant groups like ULFA can’t be ruled out.

What major achievements have you attained during last three years in the battle against the NDFB(S)?

IGP Bishnoi: If the three years from 2012-14 are combined, then we have killed a total of 68 NDFB (S) militants. The combined arrests of the linkmen and the militants in the last three years, is somewhere around 580. This figure is high because of the linkmen. 145 linkmen and militants have also surrendered before the police. In the last three years we have recovered 34 AK rifles, and after the recent massacre we have recovered 16 more rifles.

In 2015, the achievement is far better. Three NDFB(S) militants have been killed and 68 cadres arrested, 15 linkmen have also been nabbed. We have also recovered 18 sophisticated weapons.

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