On Saturday, October 13, a low-intensity blast occurred near Guwahati’s Sukleswar Ghat, injuring at least four people. Assam DGP Kuladhar Saikia said that “an explosive device caused the blast” at around 11.45am in the city’s Pan Bazaar area, News18 reported. This incident came ahead of the five-day Durga Puja festival scheduled to start from Monday, October 15, and before an ODI cricket match between India and West Indies scheduled to be held in Guwahati on Sunday, October 21, The Hindu noted.
As per The Hindu, Assam’s Additional DGP (Special Branch) Pallab Bhattacharya had, a week ago, cautioned about efforts by Islamist groups like 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,” The Hindu reported.
However, the United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I) took responsibility for the blast. The Hindu reported that Paresh Baruah, the group’s military chief, made a statement from somewhere along the Myanmar-China border, saying, “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 Indian Express reported that Baruah, while speaking to television channel Newslive, said the group was aiming to warn “Hindu Bengali organisations, who are conspiring against Assam despite living in Assam and are protesting against the NRC”. Baruah was head saying, “… through your channel I want to inform that these Bengali organisations who have been working against the interest of Assamese community despite living in Assam should refrain from doing so in the future. If they don’t, we will again do such activity in any part of Assam and target Bengali Hindu organisations, who are against NRC and are working against the interest of indigenous people”.
As per The Hindu, Saikia said that an investigation would indicate if ULFA was genuinely responsible for the blast, saying, “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”. The Hindu noted on October 13 that the police had not “ruled out an ‘opportunistic claim’ by the ULFA-I.”
Meanwhile, The Telegraph has reported that students’ group All Cachar Karimganj Hailakandi Students’ Association said it would persist in backing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. The group’s founder-president Pradip Dutta Roy told reporters, “If they (Ulfa) are thinking that Bengalis will become afraid after the blast, they are living in a fool’s paradise. They are unaware of the history of Bengalis. They do not know about the sacrifices made by Bengalis for Independence. They also have no idea about the 1961 agitation in which 11 people had laid down their lives for Bengali language,” adding, “The blast was nothing but a cowardly attempt to create tension among the masses”. Subhranshu Sekhar Bhattacharya of the North East Linguistic and Ethnic Coordination Committee also said the blast would not affect the passage of the bill, and said he was hoping it would be passed during Parliament’s winter session, The Telegraph stated.
The controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 aims to provide citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, who entered India by December 31, 2014. It has sparked fears that it would legitimise ‘Hindu Bangladeshis’ in the state and turn the indigenous Assamese into a minority, The Hindu reported.