On 23 december 2014, more than 80 people, including many Adivasis, better known in Assam as the âtea tribesâ, were butchered by insurgents of the banned National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) in a series of attacks on remote villages in Sonitpur and Kokrajhar districts of the state, which are strongholds of the outfitâs IK Songbhijit faction. The secessionist faction is at war with the Indian State and demands the formation of an independent Bodoland.
Assam was once again in the grip of fear. People across the state were outraged and expressed their anger in a number of protests that followed the carnage. Lakhs of people left their villages and queued up at relief camps, where children and women were particularly vulnerable.
These scenes were nothing new for Assam. The state and its people have lived with violence and anarchy for decades.
In May 2014, Songbhijitâs men had killed nearly 50 people in Baksa district, which is part of the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD). Promising tough action, the Assam government stepped up the counterinsurgency offensive, but did not achieve much success.
This time around, the Adivasi massacre singed the country. The very next day after the massacre, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, accompanied by his deputy Kiren Rijiju and Union Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram, reached Assam and took charge of the situation.
The Centre decided to steer the counterinsurgency operations from ground zero for a change and announced there is zero tolerance for insurgency in the Northeast. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself took up the matter of NDFB rebels hiding along the Indo-Bhutan border with his Bhutanese counterpart, Tshering Tobgay. Modi also got External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to talk to both Bangladesh and Myanmar, seeking help to flush out the rebels who maintained bases in those countries. Army Chief Dalbir Singh Suhag, who has served in the Northeast for long, spearheaded the plans to go after the NDFB rebels.
Operation All Out was launched against NDFBâs Songbhijit faction on 29 December. The army and other security forces have over a month led an unrelenting assault against the banned insurgent groups in different areas of btad and the Indo-Bhutan border. And they hit hard.
By 8 January, Operation All Out stung close to 100 people with direct or indirect links with NDFB(s). Fifty of the cadre, 33 linkmen and 16 hardcore rebels, including some top area commanders, have been taken into custody. A platoon commander of the rebel group, who was thought to be one of the masterminds behind the massacre, has been killed in an encounter. In short, the backbone of the rebel group has been broken. NDFB(s) is believed to have over 100 cadres; half of them have been apprehended.
Operation All Out is nearly a month old now and has shown results that have brought hope to people caught in a cycle of death and despair for decades in Assamâs Bodo-dominated areas.
âIt is not that the previous operations did not yield results. Several cadres have been arrested before. This time we just intensified the operations. We also got support from other security forces and the neighbouring states,â says Lt Colonel Suneet Newton, PRO (Defence), stationed at Guwahati.