Murderers to keep Assam safe?

Seldom has the act of giving the sanction to do their job created such fears among the public or given rise to such speculation as in this case in Assam, where donning the cap of the “Special Police Officer” now are 700 former militants, people who till only recently had held the country to ransom, waging at will their war against “occupational rule”. Yet that is the way how things are in this northeastern state.

The recipients of the government largesse this time, though, go beyond once renegade ULFA members; they include former members of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), the Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA) and the Karbi Longri National Liberation Front (KLNLF), all dreaded former militants with much blood on their hands.

With elections round the corner, political groups aren’t the questions that lurk in the minds of everybody, especially the public: Why should these officers be “special”? What if they return to the jungles having received specialised training? “Rehabilitation of these militants would be a good thing, but most of the time the Tarun Gogoi government is lying,” said Chandramohan Patowary, leader of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the main opposition party in the state.

As for justifying the induction, says Mrinal Hazarika, leader of a group of former ULFA militants: “These boys are trained the same way as policemen are. Hence, it is easier to place them in the force.” The statement of the police, though, is telling: “We have taken these boys after screening them three times,” Khagen Sarma, Additional Director General of Police and spokesperson for Assam Police told TSI. “And don’t forget only former militants can fight militants. A thousand former members of the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) have already joined the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).”

The inherent danger of such a strategy is only too obvious: that if such an operation were to veer out of control, it could once again bring about a spate of secret killings (in which families of ULFA members were slaughtered during Mahanta’s time), only this time with full-fledged government sanction. Sarma though says: “The appointments are six-month periods after which they will again be screened.”

For now, though, the newly recruited “Special Police Officers” are busy with the mundane, such as protesting that while the government had promised them a pay package of Rs 4,000 each, they had scaled down the figure to Rs 3,000. Surrenders, meanwhile, continue to be a thriving industry in the state with reports of former militants raising “goonda tax”, threatening their way into government contracts, and indulging in other nefarious activities now routine. And now, of course, there is the job of the “Special Police Officer” that is always waiting for Assam’s supposedly reformed militant.