At least nine people were killed in clashes between the police and tribals protesting panchayat elections in Assam’s restive Goalpara district, around 120-km west of Guwahati, on Tuesday.
Official sources said the clashes broke out at four places when large groups of people started attacking government officials as soon as polling got under way.
“When the polling began large groups of people started attacking government officials in four different parts of the district. The killings took place when the police fired in retaliation,” Assam’s home secretary GD Tripathi told DNA.
He said six people, including 3 policemen, were injured in the clashes. The protestors were allegedly armed with rods, axes, sticks etc.
“They (protestors) torched a couple of police vehicles and took away two service rifles of the policemen,” Tripathi said. Four Army columns have been deployed in the disturbed areas while four more kept on a standby.
Assam went ahead with the rural polls in the district despite opposition from the Rabhas. The tribal community believes that panchayats or village councils will undermine the authority of existing Rabha Hasong Autonomous District Council.
Describing the incidents as “unfortunate”, chief minister Tarun Gogoi said it was the “constitutional duty” of the government to hold the elections.
“Today’s violence was uncalled for given our promise of holding elections in the Rabha Hasong Council areas after the panchayat polls,” he added.
The opposition parties, though, held the government squarely responsible for the incidents.
“We had suggested that government should first try and reach an understanding with the Rabha Hasong Joint Action Committee (RHJAC) before going for the polls there. It is unfortunate that they didn’t pay heed to our suggestions,” Asom Gana Parishad chief and former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta said.
The BJP and All India United Democratic Front have also slammed the government for the incidents.