THE INVISIBLE MEN- Who’s behind the violence in the CAB protests?
The protests that Assam has witnessed since the 10th December 2019 against the Citizenship Amendment Act has been unprecedented. With comparisons being made to the Assam Agitation during the 1980s which concluded with the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985, this coming together of the people against the Act is arguably one of the biggest that the state has witnessed in recent times.
After a relatively peaceful but absolute ‘bandh’ that was announced by the AASU and North East Students Organisation (NESO) on the 10th of December 2019 and observed in totality within the Brahmaputra Valley of Assam, the protests and agitations started gaining momentum on 11th December 2019 - the day after the Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha.
As was the case during the Assam Agitation, the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) led the protest from the front with thousands of students marching and voicing their dissent against the act with full-throated sloganeering. And as the shouts became louder, members from the public also joined in to be a part of this ‘pratibaad’ against this contentious bill which has today become a law after being given the nod by both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha and finally ratified by the President of India.
These protests however were just the beginning of a tsunami of events which engulfed the state, with Guwahati being the most affected. In what started out as a series of protests by the AASU, various students from schools and colleges, members of the public and others sharing the same resentment against the bill, soon transformed into anarchy with some protesters resorting to burning and destroying public property, damaging public vehicles and indulging in other acts of vandalism.
The protests soon turned Guwahati city into a war zone, with the authorities finally clamping curfew and deploying the army and paramilitary to bring the situation under control. With a number of areas in the city witnessing unrest and violence, the curfew was put into effect from 6.15 PM on the 11th of December and was only relaxed at 9 AM on Saturday, the 14th of December. As a further step to quell the unrest, internet services were also shut down that very evening. In spite of this, the city continued to witness incidents of road blockades and protests on the 12th of October throughout the day.
And as the city was caught in a grip of fear and uncertainty owing to these incidents, the AASU and the various students’ organisations that had spearheaded these protests came out to deny any association with these acts of vandalism and destruction. They made it clear that they had no hand in any of the violence, vandalism and destruction that had occurred during the protests and also appealed to and urged their members and the people of Assam as a whole to neither resort to any kind of violence and nor support the perpetrators.
So who were these men who had caused such large scale destruction in the city? Where had they come from? What were their intentions? In its efforts to identify and weed out the guilty parties, the authorities are reportedly already working on a database of suspects and trying to identify the people behind this mayhem. Murmurs and rumours of a consolidated effort by many working as one unit to create the chaos are already reverberating in the city – political parties, political rivals, community leaders and even foreign powers are being touted as possible instigators. Stories of protestors reeking of alcohol and without any knowledge of what they are protesting about have become viral stories by word-of-mouth in a city with no access to internet.
Owing to this, chief minister of Assam, Sarbananda Sonowal, the prime subject of discontent from the protesters, has sent out communiqués in the form of press advertisements and televised statements that the violence has been instigated by some “third” parties. He has also alleged that rumours and misinformation have also been circulated among the people of Assam to create unrest and insecurity among them regarding the implementation of the CAA.
Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has also blamed the Congress and has accused them of stoking the fire in the region against the CAA. He also went on to say that the ones indulging in arson “can be identified by their clothes.”
With stories of unidentified men appearing out of nowhere in the evenings, burning tyres, blocking roads and then disappearing into the darkness, the answers to who these “ghosts” are, would be unlikely to be absolute. Just like the shopkeepers in Six Mile and Jayanagar areas, who told this writer that none of the people who caused arson were local residents, this has been the common response from those who witnessed the chaos.
In a press conference called by finance minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma, who himself is a strong advocate of the Act, he declared that the miscreants responsible for the destruction in Panjabari near Sankaradeva Kalakshetra, have been apprehended and efforts are on to identify more such perpetrators. Sarma also mentioned that so far 190 arrests have been made and number is only likely to increase in the coming days as the investigations proceed. There also have been rumours of communal tensions brewing in the Kalapahar and Lal Ganesh areas, fuelled by mystery messages and phone calls! Are there forces at work to paint the protests in a communal colour?
Words have also been spoken about how this violence and destruction was also created to tarnish Sarbananda Sonowal and his political career. With the India-Japan Summit also being cancelled in view of the current condition in the state, it will come as major blow to the CM and might be seen as a failure on his part to understand ground level situation in his own state.
With the curfew and the internet shutdown now into its 6th day and the city slowly seeming to be limping back to normalcy, the scars will not go away soon. Many questions will continue to linger and will remain unanswered – possibly with convenience. But what remains to be seen is how the authorities will tackle the situation and ensure safety of the general public. Because, if the guilty are not identified, it is just a matter of another spark lighting up the keg that Assam is right now!