’83 polls were a mistake: KPS Gill From Our Spl Correspondent NEW DELHI, Feb 18 – Twenty five years after Nellie massacre, supercop KPS Gill, one of the key figures responsible for maintenance of law and order in Assam at that time, admitted that the controversial 1983 polls were a mistake. Retired policemen, journalists and writers recalled the dreadful day that shook the country, this day in February, when riots in a small sleepy area called Nellie left over over 2000 persons dead, all victims of an ethnic clash that was seen as a fallout of the decision to hold Assembly elections in 1983, despite stiff opposition.
The occasion was the release of a book, 25 Years on ….Nellie, Still Haunts, by senior journalist of The Statesman, Hemendra Narayan, who was witness to the massacre. The book also contains a chapter ‘Revisiting A Nightmare’ by Assistant Editor of The Assam Tribune, Bedabrata Lahkar, who along with Narayan was caught in the middle of the Nellie riots while on an assignment. The book was released by noted author and columnist Kuldip Nayar at a function addressed by the former Punjab DGP Ram Bahadur Rai, Nitin Gokhale and Jai Shankar Gupta, who were all connected with the events that took place during those tumultuous days of Assam agitation in one capacity or another.
Speakers conceded that though official and non-official commissions were instituted, none could come up with a satisfactory account of the event. There is a dispute even on the death toll – while the official figures was placed at 2,191, the unofficial figure is believed to be over 5,000.
The official Tiwari Commission report is still a closely guarded secret, with only three copies existing. A Japanese scholar, who wanted to do a research on the massacre, was also barred by the Government from doing so, the author said.
The most interesting commentary on those days came from Gill, who was the then IG (Law and Order). Recalling those heady days, he said it was his suggestion to hold the 1983 polls in phases in order to avoid violence. In Assam, there were 63 constituencies, where elections could have been held without any trouble. Among the rest, there were 23 constituencies where it was impossible to hold any election.
“It was my suggestion that polls be held in the 63 LACs and then allow the frayed nerves calm down,” he said.
“The agitators did not even know then you could have elections in half of the State without trouble,” he said.
He added that when polls were successfully conducted in the first phase, the agitators woke up and decided to concentrate their attack on the State Government and election machineries.
In the 1983 poll, 400 companies of Central paramilitary force and 11 brigades of Army were deployed.
About the Nellie massacre, he said that he, along with some top officials, were camping in the area. Such was the size of the crowd that it had a depth of 20-30 km. The security forces started dispersing the crowd at about 12.30 pm and it ended at about 2 am.
Nellie was always a trouble spot and adequate forces were deployed in the area. The SSP, who had the forces removed from the bridge over river Kolong on the eve of the massacre, was later killed by the ULFA, he said.
Gill further revealed that he had predicted, in the 80s, that both the Assam and Punjab Accords would collapse. The then Prime Minister Late Indira Gandhi was ready to sign the Accord in 1983 itself, but it did not fructify due to some reasons. The same Accord was later reworked on and signed in 1985.
The former DGP also said that he was perhaps the first SP to raise alarm about illegal infiltration from Bangladesh. Going back to the genesis of the tension, he said way back in 1964, some of the North-Eastern States and West Bengal had started deporting the Bangladeshis. But the neighbouring countries allowed them to settle across the border, which led to frequent clashes.
Asserting that there was something seriously wrong, Gill said some 20 days back, GC Langthasa had come seeking advice on how to bring peace in North Cachar Hills. “Sometimes law and order is important, so that human beings can live and not die,” he opined.
Recalling the event, the author said when they were caught in the middle of a mob, they didn’t realise then that they were going to kill. “Lahkar mentioned the word batori that perhaps saved us from being killed,” he said.
“The thought whether we could have prevented this haunts me till date,” he said.
Releasing the book, Nayar said that the Assam movement was the most secular. “I hold the government responsible for Nellie. It was something we should be ashamed of. The government should have identified the culprits and punished them,” he said.