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4 hurt in minor blast in Guwahati; ULFA claims responsibility

Security personnel inspect the site of a low-intensity bomb blast that took place at Panbazar in Guwahati, Saturday, October 13, 2018.

Security personnel inspect the site of a low-intensity bomb blast that took place at Panbazar in Guwahati, Saturday, October 13, 2018.

The outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I) detonated a low-intensity bomb in Guwahati on Saturday to make an ‘explosive statement’ against the Centre’s bid to pass the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.

Four people, including a woman, were injured in the blast ahead of the five-day Durga Puja festival from Monday and the first ODI cricket match between India and West Indies scheduled on October 21.

The police downplayed the blast on the Brahmaputra riverbank along the city’s arterial Mahatma Gandhi Road close to Fancy Bazaar, a Durga Puja shopping destination. They said there was no evidence that a bomb caused the blast that damaged some vehicles and injured the four people riding them.

Assam’s Additional Director General of Police (Special Branch) Pallab Bhattacharya had a week ago warned of a bid by Islamist organisations such as Hizb-ul-Mujahideen to strike during the festive season. The theory gained currency after the arrest of eight alleged members of the group from Assam and Meghalaya during the last fortnight.

Message for Delhi

But the ULFA-I claimed responsibility soon after the blast. “Our members carried out the explosion to protest the occupational Indian government’s attempt to settle Bengali immigrants in Assam through the Citizenship Bill. The attack is also against the conspiracy to derail the National Register of Citizens (NRC),” the extremist outfit’s military chief Paresh Baruah said in a statement from somewhere on the Myanmar-China border.

He warned of more such strikes, some of higher intensity, in the days to come.

Kuladhar Saikia, the State’s Director General of Police, said an investigation would confirm if the extremists had indeed triggered the blast. “We are trying to find out the nature of the explosives, and since the rebels have owned up, whether they triggered it themselves or outsourced the job to others,” he said.

The police have not ruled out an “opportunistic claim” by the ULFA-I. But the blast has happened when organisations batting for indigenous communities and settlers perceived as ‘outsiders’ have taken an opposing stand on the Citizenship Bill that seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslims from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who migrated to India till December 31, 2014.

Many Assamese organisations fear that Citizenship Bill if passed, would legalise the stay of ‘Hindu Bangladeshis’ in Assam and turn them into a minority. The fear that the bill would be passed during the winter session of the Parliament became stronger after the State BJP endorsed the bill at its State executive meeting in Majuli on Thursday.

Bengali conclave

A coordination body of 27 Bengali organisations has, meanwhile, decided to organise a conclave in Guwahati on November 17.

“The conclave is not about confrontation but about exploring ways to remove the wedge that some forces have driven between the Assamese and Bengali communities. We are the Bengalis of Assam, unlike Bengalis elsewhere, but we could not speak out that we are part and parcel of the greater Assamese society,” BJP legislator Shiladitya Dev said.

He is the coordinator of Citizens’ Rights Protection Forum-Assam, which is organising the conclave.

“Assamese is not just a language but an identity. Through the conclave, we want to give the message for a joint fight against external aggressors towards securing the future of Assam,” Mr Dev said. EOM

A blast in the Sukleswar Ghat area here on Saturday left four persons injured. The banned militant outfit United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) Independent has claimed responsibility saying the blast was in protest against the updation of National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam.

Assam Director General of Police (DGP) Kuladhar Saikia said, “An explosive device caused the blast” at around 11.45 a.m. at a construction material dump site near a footpath in the Pan Bazar area. The four passers-by, including a woman, suffered minor wounds and were being provided medical care at the Mahendra Mohan Choudhury Civil Hospital, he said.

“There are many types of explosive devices...some have switches. Only after investigation, it will be known if any militant outfit was involved in the explosion,” Mr Saikia told reporters.

ULFA (Independent) commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah later called up local TV channels claiming that the blast was carried out by the outfit protesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and NRC updation exercise. He alleged that the NRC will be used to settle non-Assamese people in the state.

The DGP said security has already been stepped up for the on-going the festival season.

‘Not a bomb’

Earlier, DCP Ranjan Bhuyan said, “We don’t suspect it to be a bomb explosion as there were no splinters found and the injuries were caused by stones hitting the victims...We don’t suspect it to be a sabotage or terrorist activity from the nature of the blast. It happened in a dump of sand kept for roadside drain construction. It may have had an unexploded shell which went off,” he said.

“A forensic team is investigating the impact of the blast and assessing whether it was an explosive device or anything else that caused it,” Education Minister and Guwahati MLA Siddhartha Bhattacharya said.

On being told that Paresh Baruah had claimed responsibility, Mr. Bhattacharya said the outlawed organisation should first apologise to the people for the act.

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