Wittingly or unwittingly, the Assam government is enforcing an ‘indefinite’ bandh called by a militant outfit in support of its demand for carving a separate state of Karbi out of Assam.
It means a virtual shutdown of a 75-km stretch of the National Highway, which is the lifeline of Manipur. On security grounds, the police on the Nagaland border stopped all traffic at 5 p.m., Monday itself, though the bandh call was to come into effect only from 5 a.m. the next day.
Earlier, as Diphu town, district headquarters of Karbi Anglong, woke up on Monday to the news of the bandh, the narrow roads of the town were jammed with people rushing to the markets to stock up supplies. “All we know from the newspapers is that it is an indefinite bandh. We do not know how long it would last. I would down the shutters,” was the wry comment of the owner of Sinhasan, a hotel.
This was the refrain of most shopkeepers and other establishments there. The district is considered very sensitive during elections, given the history of violence unleashed by the ultra outfit, the Karbi People’s Liberation Tigers (KPLF), and periodic ethnic clashes.
Those caught unawares by the bandh were forced to sweat it out on the Assam-Nagaland border the whole of Monday night as the authorities maintained that they could provide a security escort out of the district only at 8 a.m.
Pleas by those who were ready to travel fell on deaf ears as the police insisted that they had ‘orders from the top’ not to allow any traffic. “There is no way we can allow any person to travel as we do not want to be blamed for any violence,” an officer on the border argued.
Only after a great deal of persuasion and convincing that they were unwittingly serving the cause of an ultra outfit, did the authorities agree to allow a car carrying this reporter to travel on the highway but with an armed escort.
Requests by drivers of others vehicles that they be allowed to go along with the escort were not entertained. “Thrice during the day escort parties would accompany stranded traffic,” an officer said.
Election to the Autonomous District (Assam) Lok Sabha constituency in Karbi Anglong is scheduled for April 12.