Guwahati: Home Minister Rajnath Singh Thursday ruled out talks with Bodo "terrorists", as the death toll in the two days of violence in Assam rose to 73. "The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has a clear policy against terrorism - zero tolerance.
There would be no talks at any cost with the militants who carry out such heinous killings," he said after visiting some of the affected areas in Kokrajhar and Sonitpur districts. "The violence is not merely a case of insurgency but one of terrorism. We are going to deal with this sternly," the home minister said.
The comments from Rajnath Singh, who flew into Assam Wednesday evening, came as the death toll in Tuesday's horror in Kokrajhar, Sonitpur and Chirang districts rose to 73 Thursday, officials said. Official sources said at least 60 adivasis were massacred by Bodo militants, while 10 Bodos were killed in retaliatory attacks.
Three people died Wednesday when police opened fire at thousands of people who took to the streets in Dhekiajuli in Sonitpur district to protest the Bodo militant attack. Those slaughtered include 21 women and 18 children. Scores of others have been injured in the mayhem.
Rajnath Singh was accompanied by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, some top officials of the union home ministry and some state government officials during his visit to the affected areas. Tuesday night's violence has been blamed on a hardline faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).
Around 2,500 people have fled their homes and are staying in relief camps, official sources said. The death toll was likely to increase further as there were reports of more bodies being found Thursday in the three districts. However, there was no official confirmation.
The home minister asked Assam to take time-bound action and promised all help from the central government. "There should be time-bound action against them. Now there would not be any talks but action. We are going to launch an operation against them soon," he said.
The home minister, however, did not divulge any details about the operation. "The state government will get all required help from the centre. A total of 50 companies of paramilitary forces have been rushed to the state, and the army and Assam Rifles asked to cooperate with police to control the situation and in the operation against the militants," he said.
Rajnath Singh said the central government has taken up with Bhutan and Bangladesh the issue of militants from India's northeast hiding there. "We have taken up the matter with the neighbouring countries and one country has assured cooperation, and we are sure the other will also cooperate," he said.
Rajnath Singh Thursday morning visited a few relief camps in Sonitpur and Kokrajhar where hundreds have taken shelter after fleeing their villages when the Bodo militants torched many homes. The minister also met security personnel.
Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju, who is from Arunachal Pradesh, and Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram accompanied Rajnath Singh to Assam. Rajnath Singh has already met Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, Director General of Police Khagen Sarma, Chief Secretary Jitesh Khosla and other heads of security forces in the state.
Meanwhile, Gogoi Thursday slammed Khosla for his family tour and enjoying an elephant ride at the Kaziranga National Park Wednesday, even as the massacre of adivasis took place in three districts the previous evening.
"That is not good on the chief secretary's part. He should have immediately come back," Gogoi told newsmen here. The incident came to the light after television channels showed visuals of the chief secretary visiting the famed park Wednesday morning, seemingly ignoring the macabre killings the previous night.
Assembly Deputy Speaker Bhimananda Tanti has also been criticised for terming the massacre as "an incident that keeps on happening". He had Wednesday said such incidents happen regularly in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Angry locals in Sonitpur district Thursday heckled Tanti when he visited a relief camp. Many adivasi organisations have called a 12-hour Assam bandh Friday in protest against the killings.