Assam rocked by bomb blasts

Aaradhana Jhunjhunwala
6 April 2009

Eight people were killed and over twenty injured when twin blasts occurred in the eastern Indian city of Guwahati and the town of Dhekiajuli in the eastern state of Assam. The blasts occurred at 2:00 PM local time on Monday, 6 April. News agencies report there was complete chaos after the explosion took place in Guwahati and many residents clashed with the police, as a mark of their displeasure with the frequency of such incidents in the area.

The Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh is scheduled to visit Assam on Tuesday to campaign for the upcoming general election. Guwahati is the largest commercial hub in Assam, from where Singh was elected in 1995 to the Rajya Sabha - the upper house in India's parliament.

Authorities claim that the banned militant outfit, United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), is behind the blasts, although no confirmed reports were available till about two hours after the incident. ULFA will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its formation on Tuesday. Similar blasts disrupted Guwahati last week when India's foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, was in the city, also campaigning for his party.

While ULFA historically stems from an indigenous, nationalist movement, Indian officials increasingly suspect that the militant group has established ties with Pakistan's notorious ISI intelligence agency, the body thought to be behind several terrorist attacks in India in recent years.

Carnage in Pakistan

Meanwhile, Pakistan continues its descent into chaos. Gunmen entered and opened fire in a police training academy in Lahore in Pakistan last Tuesday. Between Saturday and Sunday, three suicide attacks struck inside the troubled country, one at a mosque in the country's north-east and two aimed at security posts.

(Read more about the violence in Pakistan in today's security briefing)

Moral-policing the Indian politician

The Election Commission of India has been busy policing the campaigns of political leaders and aspirants in the run up to the national polls. Indian newspapers and the electronic media are abuzz with reports of politicians, many of them veterans and party leaders, consistently and brazenly defying the model code of conduct. Ironically, parties whose own leaders continue to defy the poll's moral code are the ones lodging complaints with the Election Commission against their rivals.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lodged a complaint against current Home Minister P.C. Chidambaram, senior leader of the Indian National Congress (INC), for bringing up issues that could be seen as "poll sops" at a security review meeting in the state of Rajasthan. The Commission has asked the Home Minister to respond to the allegation by Monday evening.

On the other hand, veteran BJP politician Jaswant Singh, a former cabinet minister, was caught on camera handing out money to electors in his son's constituency. The INC filed a complaint at the Election Commission regarding Singh's conduct, to which he responded, "The law is an ass", and recommended the law be reviewed.

Another senior politician, Mulayam Singh Yadav was sent a notice from the Election Commission after his remarks threatening the District Magistrate of his constituency for confiscating firearms in possession of his party workers. The leader of the Samajwadi Party, an important party in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, has come under the Commission's scrutiny previously for distributing cash as bribes to voters. His reply to the allegation was that the money was not a bribe, but part of a traditional gift his party distributed each year.

Politicians in India come up with creative excuses for handing out money to voters in their constituencies. Whether the excuse is an annual offering made in the name of charity or tokenism under the garb of tradition, direct money transfers remain commonplace, as the Election Commission struggles to stringently implement its code of conduct.

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