Guwahati: On Friday, December 4, three days before the first round of polling for council elections, a team of Assam Police and other security forces recovered a cache of sophisticated arms and ammunition buried somewhere in the Ripu Reserve Forest in Kokrajhar, the centre of the Bodo Territorial Region (BTR). The haul included four AK-56 rifles, six pipe guns, 10 pistols, five grenades, Molotov cocktails and tens of rounds of assorted ammunition. On December 1, the police recovered an AK series rifle and ammunition buried near a fish farm in Kokrajhar. The next day, they recovered a pistol, again from the Ripu reserve forest. On the same day, the police also recovered an AK-47 and ammunition near a culvert in Baksa, another district which is part of the BTR.
Since January, when the Government of India signed the latest pact with Bodo outfits, the Assam Police and the security forces have recovered at least 172 guns including at least 53 AK series rifles, six M series rifles, four HK series rifles along with over 320 grenades.
This number of arms and ammunition is higher than the weapons laid down by different factions of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland in January. The three factions of the militant outfit deposited 178 weapons and three grenades.
“Generally, the tradition has been that these (militant) groups don’t surrender a substantial part of the weapons (when they come overground),” Gyanendra Pratap Singh, the Additional Director General of Police, Law and Order, told EastMojo. Only 40%-50% of the arms were deposited, the police said. The rest was hidden by these groups.
The seizures started in January this year when the last of the armed group, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Sonbijit) (NDFB(S) came over ground from their hideouts in neighbouring Myanmar and on the Indo-Bhutan border in Assam.
Assam Police officials in the know of the operations claimed the weapons belong to all groups, including the Bodo Liberation Tigers, a banned outfit which laid down arms 17 years ago in 2003.
The BLT cadres fought for a separate state till 2003 under their chief Hagrama Mohilary, who laid down arms when the Centre agreed to the Bodoland Territorial Council.
Mohilary, who heads the Bodoland People’s Front, has been the chief of the Bodo Territorial Council since 2013. The BPF has been part of the BJP-led state government in Dispur. The saffron party with an eye on consolidating its presence in the state decided to go solo in the BTC polls.
Assam Police officials say both the state government and the Ministry of Home Affairs had given clear instructions to ensure a neutral Bodo Territorial Council elections and that weapons should not play a role.
The elections were originally scheduled for April but had to be postponed as COVID-19 pandemic raged. The first phase of polling was held on December 7, and the final round is scheduled for December 10.
“The postponement gave us more time for this clean-up,” said Singh.
Most weapons were wrapped in plastic and buried. “We knew the modus operandi of these groups,” Singh added.
The weapons are pulled out when needed. Police said it takes just a couple of hours of servicing, after which the guns are good to go.
There have been instances when members of the militant outfits had buried weapons after using them to create mayhem. The NIA, which investigated the December 2014 Adivasi massacre when 76 Adivasis were killed, recovered as many as seven rifles and four pistols which were buried by members of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit) (NDFB(S) after the dastardly killings. Singh, who was then with the National Investigation Agency (NIA), had supervised the investigation.
Police estimate that the ongoing seizures only account for 60-70% of the illegal weapons concealed by the groups.
“We are still at it,” Singh said. “Till the weapons are cleaned up there cannot be a permanent peace in Bodoland.”