From the train to Kokrajhar I could see the verdant countryside passing by: flooded green rice fields, villages with ponds and bamboo groves. The people, in the fields and on the train, barely hinted at the political and ethnic fault lines that are simmering within the region.
I reached Balajan Tiniali, a small market about 12 kilometres north of Kokrajhar town, late afternoon. Ten days had passed since an attack had occurred in the village, in which 14 people had been killed and 18 injured. The day of the attack, 5 August, was a Friday, one of the two market or haat days (the other being Tuesday). Bullet holes on the walls of the shops and the trees that surrounded the market were a reminder of the horror of that day. A saloon at which four Bodo people, including the two owners, had been killed was now closed. A cluster of nine shops had also been burnt down that day, because of a grenade that had resulted in a fire. I could see a group of people—they were, I later learnt, the owners of these shops—taking measurements of the shops that had once stood there. The owners told me that they had received some money from the state government, and were waiting for compensation from the BTC or Bodoland Territorial Council—the council that governs the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD), and which is headquartered at Kokrajhar. None of them had witnessed the attack—they had all fled at the sound of gunshots, they said, and returned later to find their shops in flames.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, several theories and rumours began to float: that it was a jihadi attack by groups active in the region; or that it was an attempt by the banned National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit) , a separatist outfit which was carved out of the NDFB, and has been seeking a sovereign Bodoland for the Bodo people since it was established in 2012, to create communal disorder (and thereby distract the security forces’ attention away from their own cadres, whose numbers had been dwindling due to continuous operations by the forces); or that there was a “third party” involved. Eyewitness accounts in the media were varied as well: some said they saw two or three men alighting from an auto-rickshaw and then moving about and firing, wearing—in different accounts—either black masks or raincoats. One man said he saw a bearded man in a black kurta get down from an auto.
One attacker was killed at the marketplace—later identified by the police as Monjoy Islary or Mwdan, a senior NDFB(S) cadre. On the evening of the attack, the additional director general of Police LR Bishnoi had said that three people were involved, two of whom got away. However four days after the attack, the Kokrajhar superintendent of police, Shyamal Prasad Saikia said that it had been a lone-wolf attempt and that Monjoy had been drunk, even as the Assam Police said an associate of his, Bodoland Boro, had been picked up from a bus bound for Guwahati on 8 August.
On 6 August, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said in a press release that the NDFB(S) was “directly involved” in the attack. However, on 8 August, Home Minister Rajnath Singh stated in the Lok Sabha that “the exact number of militants and the militant group involved in the attack was being investigated.”