Guwahati: Parts of Assam and Tripura have turned overnight into a warzone with Army being deployed in Guwahati and Tinsukia and the Assam Rifles in Tripura.
The knee-jerk response came after thousands of protesters took to streets in both states and fought pitched battles with policemen who fired rubber bullets and tear gas shells, leaving hundreds injured.
Guwahati was under indefinite curfew, the chief minister was stranded at the airport for hours and an internet blackout was in force in ten districts of Assam for 24 hours, starting 7 am Wednesday.
Chaos on this epic scale has not been witnessed since the violent six-year movement by students ended with the signing of the Assam accord in 1985.
There was a flurry of activity with the Centre airlifting 5,000 paramilitary personnel to the North-East. Interestingly, these included 2,000 army soldiers from Kashmir.
In Guwahati, Agitated students, protesting against the proposed law that seeks to grant Indian citizenship to all but Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, blocked road and rail traffic, pulled down barricades and even lobbed back tear gas shells fired at them by the police.
A motorcycle rally was organised against the Bill, while discarded tyres, wooden logs and vehicles were set on fire as chaos prevailed on highways.
They also damaged a stage erected for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's proposed summit meeting with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe on Sunday, while pulling down hoardings and banners advertising the government's welfare schemes; later, they had a bonfire outside the secretariat.
Incidentally, no single party or student body had officially called for a shutdown.
As dusk fell, street lights were switched off in many parts of Guwahati. The Brahmaputra valley bore the brunt and among the flashpoints were Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Jorhat and Kamrup.
It was not just lumpen element on the streets but students from all leading educational institutions, including IIT Guwahati, the local university and Cotton College.
As the unrest escalated, protesters were threatening to barge into the civil secretariat in Dispur that houses the office of the chief minister and ministers of his Cabinet.
The protests brought traffic to a standstill, markets observed a shutdown and eight trains were cancelled in view of the ‘Rail Roko’ that was in force.
The situation in most parts of Upper Assam is particularly tense. The worst affected areas are Dibrugarh, the hometown of CM Sarbananda Sonowal; Jorhat, the hometown of former CM Tarun Gogoi; Tezpur and Tinsukia, the commercial towns of the state.
The Mohanbari airport at Dibrugarh has been shut. The police baton charged and fired in the air to disperse protesters who had blocked the National Highway.
A girl student of Bokul polytechnic at Lahowal sustained rubber bullet injuries, but is out of danger. Even ambulances and vans carrying oxygen cylinder were stopped by the protesters.
The situation, which is still grim at ground zero till the filing of this report, was expected to deteriorate once the Citizenship Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha.
Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharyya, adviser, All Assam Students Union, said, “The people of Assam are our high command. The AASU, with the support of 30 other like-minded organisations, will intensify the protest against the Bill. The central government is trying to empower people on the basis of religion. The present status of CAB is not acceptable to us.”
AASU, one of the parties which signed the Assam Accord in 1985, has been crying itself hoarse against the Bill. Akhil Gogoi, adviser, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, said,“People of Assam will never accept CAB as it is against the Indian Constitution and based on religion.
The BJP government is creating a false perception and trying to mislead the people, though the Bill clearly states that it won’t overwrite the existing provisions in those areas.’’