The afternoon of May 17th, 1996 – was the darkest day in the history of Assam. Parag Kumar Das was shot dead. Immediately after the killing, the news spread like wildfire much to the shock and grief of the people of Assam, there were two statements. One was by the newly sworn-in Chief Minister of Assam, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and the other was by the C-in-C of the United Liberation Front of Asom, Paresh Baruah. Both declared to find out the culprits within 48 hours and to punish the guilty. It does not mention that their declaration never materialized even after fifteen years and justice is still denied.
With Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, it was expected of him and all his successors in rule, to be unable to provide justice to Parag Das’ killers since there is no doubt that Parag Kumar Das was killed by the orders of someone high up within the Indian State machine. However, it still pains the Assamese nationalists as to why Paresh Baruah or the ULFA, whose cause Parag Kumar Das so strongly supported through his bold and radical writings for a sovereign Assam, was never able to trace out the actual killers in spite of the promise. When we use the word Actual killers here, we refer to the brain that controlled the killing and not the hands in the form of the four SULFA men who committed the crime under orders from some unknown master.
It is to be mentioned that ULFA did avenge the killers of Parag Kumar Das to some extent. Of the four SULFA men accused of the killing of Late Parag Kumar Das, two of them were actually killed by the ULFA as a punishment for this horrendous crime against Assamese. The four accused were namely Mridul Phukan, Tapan Dutta, Diganta Baruah and Nayan Das.
SULFA Tapan Dutta, one of the killers of Parag Kumar Das was hunted down and shot dead amidst tight security and in spite of armed security personnel on Zoo Road, Guwahati in 1998 by the ULFA. Another SULFA Madhurjya Mahanta, who was not related to the Parag Das killing, also shot dead in that shoot out as he was accompanying Tapan Dutta at that time. Because of this incident, late Madhurjya Mahanta was later suspected to be another one involved in the Parag Kumar Das killing. It is to be mentioned that ULFA sent a press release admitting to have killed these two notorious SULFA. However, strangely the outfit did not declare that this was to punish the killers of Parag Kumar Das. Instead, it was declared that Tapan Dutta was killed because he had stolen Rs Five Crores from the outfit in the past and so was given capital punishment. It is, however, assumed that ULFA took this as a strategic decision of not announcing that they were after the killers of Parag Kumar Das, so as not to alert the actual men behind the killing. However ULFA too had to pay some price because of this. Publicity Chief of ULFA Mithinga Daimary, who had issued the press release on behalf of the outfit, was targeted. That very night, secret killers broke into the house of Mithinga Daimary alias Deepak Das’ house and shot dead his innocent parents, elder brother, Dr. Dharani Das, wife of Dharani Das and Sister Latika Kachari at night. Son of Dr. Dharani Das, Bhaskar Das escaped unhurt somehow that day. Mentionable that Bhaskar Das was aged 4 years kid at the time of that incident. This was the beginning of the secret killings in Assam and many were to follow this.
The second suspect in the Parag Kumar Das killing was another SULFA Diganta Baruah. He was also killed by ULFA in 1999 near the Zoo in Guwahati. However ULFA had again kept the reason in the dark and gave some other reason for killing. The third suspect Nayan Das was however not killed by the ULFA. He was killed in a fight with some land mafia in 2003 and with this, only the fourth and the only accused was left behind, – and that is Mridul Phukan.
Prafulla Mahanta, who became the new Chief Minister ending the Congress’ misdeeds in 1996 was mainly able to come back to power because of the efforts taken by Parag Kumar Das in fighting against the vandalism of the Hiteshwar Saikia led Congress(I) Government. In Fact, on the day of the election, Parag Kumar Das had published news named Raaij Ebaar Monot Pelauk Ei Sobikhon (Think once about this photograph) where he had published the photo of the bodies of four youth being burned together with tires and patrols in Nagaon, where security forces under a Congress(I) led Government was violating all human rights. But after rising to power, Prafulla Mahanta did not do anything to bring justice to Parag Kumar Das killing. In fact, many accuse Prafulla Mahanta wanted to get rid of Parag Kumar Das right in the beginning so that he does not need to face the dare of Parag Kumar Das in his evil plots.
The CBI, the Government and the Indian Judicial system has never been able to find any reason or evidence to punish Mridul Phukan or to probe further as to whose orders Mridul Phukan was following. Eyewitnesses have disappeared or changed their colors like a chameleon, the journalist and the media did nothing except writing an yearly article on 17th of May every year and the Assamese, for whom Parag Kumar Das fought with his pen without a compromise did nothing more than shed crocodile tears. The case of Parag Kumar Das had re-surfaced after a PIL was filed in the year 2000 by Dr Hiren Gohain along with Jahnu Baruah, Dilip Chandan and Mahendra Borthakur. It is to be mentioned that Dr Hiren Gohain always had ideological differences with Late Parag Kumar Das over the issue of Sovereignty of Assam. However, unlike many other trusted and loyal followers of Parag Kumar das whose colors changed after he was shot dead, unlike the majority of the Assamese people who just forgot about the struggle and sacrifice this man had done for his motherland in his lifetime, Dr. Hiren Gohain stood for the cause though they had many an intellectual duel during their times.
The people of Assam have already lost all hope that justice would ever be achieved in the Parag Kumar Das killing. It would be foolish to assume that Mridul Phukan, a free bird, would one day change his mind and speak out to all those who were involved and also admit that he was the killer! It would even more stupid that the Indian State Machine would ever give justice too. So what choice are we left with?
Interestingly, during the meeting held on the occasion of the fifteenth death anniversary of Parag Kumar Das, the intellectuals opined that the issue and demand for justice should be included as one of the demands in the Demands Charter for Assam, which ULFA would be using in their lateral talks with the Government of India. This reminded us of the promise that ULFA C-in-C Paresh Baruah had once made, about punishing the killers of Parag Kumar Das.
We have seen and heard the ULFA men killing or kidnapping high-rank IAS officials, Army men, and Ministers, some innocent some guilty. When the Mrinal Hazarika and Jiten Dutta led 28th Battalion of ULFA declared a cease-fire in Assam, there were reports published in some newspapers of Assam that Jiten Dutta and Mrinal Hazarika had managed two Army officers to keep under their custody to negotiate over their ceasefire issue with some Army Official of Dinjan Army Camp. Paresh Baruah, if your ULFA is so powerful then why can’t you and your men investigate the case at your end, kidnap away the accused whoever it is, Mridul Phukan or others and force him to name out and declare all the other men involved in this conspiracy, punish them too? It is a shame that we are challenging a militant outfit instead of the Government which is supposed to take care of justice and security, but if this is the last means of bringing justice and punishing the killers of Parag Kumar Das, the be it be. Paresh Baruah, you have claimed yourself as a hero, you claim for sovereign Assam. But if you cannot live up to your own promise and bring justice to the person who fought for motherland Assam and Sovereignty, what hope for security and justice would other common men have in your free Assam? If you cannot keep your promise, there is no difference between Paresh Baruah and Prafulla Mahanta, for he too has failed to keep his word with the justice of Parag Kumar Das.
Prafulla Kumar Mahanta is a lost game now. But what about you Paresh Baruah? Will you dare to do!!