Suspected NSCN militants Tuesday gunned down sitting MLA and Assembly candidate Tirong Aboh and ten others, including his son and security personnel, in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tirap district. Police said suspected militants ambushed Aboh’s convoy when he was en route to his constituency from Assam.
Aboh (45) was a member of the National People’s Party (NPP) and the sitting MLA from Khonsa West constituency seeking re-election and was vocal against the NSCN (IM) (Isak-Muivah) targeting political workers in the area in his election campaign. Arunachal Pradesh’s 60-member House went to polls in April with the Lok Sabha elections.
The NPP, an ally of the BJP in the North-East, leads the coalition government in Meghalaya, and is headed by Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, who condemned the attack and urged Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take action.
“I’m shocked and saddened by the brutal attack and tragic killing of MLA Shri Tirong Aboh of Arunachal Pradesh, his family including 11 people. Strongest possible action will be taken against those responsible for such dastardly attack,” tweeted Arunachal MP and MoS Home Kiren Rijiju.
Violence-prone district, AFSPA already in place
The adjacent districts of Tirap, Changlang and Longding of Arunachal Pradesh — surrounded by Assam, Nagaland and Myanmar — is a violence-prone area in which the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is in force. Militants belonging to the multiple factions of the NSCN are active here and in some parts, so is the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA).
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh described the killing as an “outrageous attempt to disturb peace and normalcy in the North-East”. “The perpetrators of this heinous crime will not be spared. My condolences to the bereaved families,” he said. Sources in the NPP said that Aboh, his son Longgem Aboh (20), and a group of close aides were travelling from Dibrugarh in Assam to Khonsa, the district headquarters of Tirap, in four vehicles when suspected militants intercepted them and sprayed the convoy with bullets.
An Arunachal Pradesh Police statement said that the attack took place around 20 km from the district headquarter Khonsa, on the Khonsa-Deomali road, when Aboh’s convoy was “stopped by armed men were fired upon”. “Operation by Army units have also been launched in the area for the arrest of the perpetrators,” it said.
Sources suspect that the NSCN (IM) faction could be behind the massacre though the faction is currently involved in peace talks with the Centre. While the Kilosner (Minister) for Information and Publicity of the parallel government run by the NSCN (IM), Citizen Chamroy told The Indian Express that he did not want to comment on the incident, Convener of the NSCN (IM) ceasefire monitoring cell Karibo Chawang said, “We have initiated our own investigations into the incident. We have informed all our headquarters and are collecting information to ascertain what happened exactly.” Chawang did not comment on whether the IM was behind the ambush or not.
Sangma said that the killing of Aboh was a “big loss for the party.” “What has happened is extremely shocking and as the president of the party, I condemn this brutal attack. As you know, an NPP worker was killed ahead of the Assembly election in Arunachal Pradesh. He belonged to Aboh’s constituency. I had just met him four-five days ago in Guwahati along with the 30 other NPP candidates who stood for elections in Arunachal Pradesh,” he said.
“He was a strong sitting MLA and according to our reports, was positioned to win this seat again. He had been threatened by a particular underground group ahead of the elections, but I can only comment on which group this was and what the threats were after I receive a full report from the party leaders as well as the state police.”
In March, Seliam Wangsa, a zilla parishad member in Longding district, was killed allegedly by NSCN (IM) suspects, and Jaley Anna of Tirap — an NPP supporter considered close to Aboh — was tortured to death by suspected militants from the same group. Aboh was vocal against the political violence and reportedly told a gathering, “Politicians who do not have the guts to fight elections on their own merit should not use underground elements.”
While the NPP pointed fingers at the ruling BJP in Arunachal Pradesh for the death of Aboh, the BJP said it was not the time to play politics. The NPP is a BJP ally in the region is part of the alliance government in Manipur, apart from Meghalaya where it leads the state alliance. In the LS polls, the NPP is in “friendly contest” against the BJP on multiple seats in the Northeast.
Arunachal NPP president Kabak said, “In Arunachal, the BJP is the single largest party… It was supposed to be friendly but unfortunately, violence has crept in and that took Aboh’s life.” State BJP president Tapir Gao said, “It is immature to play politics at this hour of grief and put blame. We condemn the killings. All those who are responsible will be brought to justice.”