Gogoi says central forces reached late

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi today said the late arrival of central forces, including the Army, had led to the spread of ethnic clashes in parts of the state, adding that he was not blaming anybody because dispatch of forces takes time.

"The system is like that... Violence however wouldn't have escalated if we had enough reserve companies of central forces. Though we had about 150 companies till recently, the Centre took away several leaving us with only 96," Gogoi said.

While violence began on July 20, central forces arrived three days later. The Army moved in on July 25 after formalities were completed.

"I personally called up the Army commander (in Kolkata) and defence minister the day the violence broke out requesting deployment of the Army," Gogoi said.

Sources in the Union Home Ministry seemed to corroborate his claims, saying that the Army, but not the paramilitary forces, could have been deployed a couple of days earlier.

The sources said deputy commissioners of Kokrajhar and Chirang districts had requested for deployment of Army units on July 23 but the local Army commanders wanted orders from the Defence Ministry. The Assam chief secretary had then written to both the home secretary and defence secretary in Delhi and apprised them of the situation.

"The troops could be deployed only two days later, on July 25. If the Army had been deployed on July 23, violence could have been controlled earlier," sources said. They said executive magistrates were empowered to requisition the services of Army troops to maintain law and order and the nearest Army units were stationed within a distance of just 150-200 km.

Gogoi dismissed reports calling the clashes communal, saying it was more "a clash between miscreants". According to him, "a feeling of deprivation and conflict of interests prevailing among various communities in the state" were the cause behind the Bodo-Muslim conflict. Economic development was the only panacea for such conflicts, he said.

The CM added that the Muslims affected in the violence were all Indians and not Bangladeshis, as alleged by the BJP, accusing the party of giving the clashes a communal colour.

Though only tribals enjoyed exclusive land rights in tribal belts and blocks of Assam, he added, the Bodo Accord had ensured that all non-Bodo communities living in the four districts too enjoyed land rights even after the creation of the the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). "Nobody can take away their land," Gogoi said.

With over 3.92 lakh people in relief camps, the CM said the "exodus" had been triggered by "panic caused by rumours". "The number of people taking shelter is high compared to the past six major conflicts in the state, but the death toll is much less," he said.

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