As the ethnic violence in Assam ricocheted in Maharashtra and also came to haunt the Congress in Parliament, party chief Sonia Gandhi rushed to the relief camps for the riot victims in Kokrajhar and Dhubri. However, the Congress supremo undertook the visit a full three weeks after the clashes between the Bodos and the Bengali-speaking immigrants that claimed as many as 77 lives and rendered nearly four lakh people homeless.
Accompanied by Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi among others, Sonia flew to the strife-torn area in a special IAF helicopter.
It was a whistle-stop tour, no more. And striking a rather practical note, Sonia told the refugees, who thronged her meeting venues, that they will have to remain in the relief camps till the situation cools off a little. “Naturally all refugees want to go back home, but this will take some more time till the situation is a little calmer,” the Congress supremo said, adding that “once feelings are assuaged, the Chief Minister and others will make sure that they are able to go home.” (The last part, of course, was an instruction of sorts to the Assam Chief Minister.)
In a sense, the Congress president contradicted the Chief Minister who had earlier set an August 15 time frame for the return of the refugees to their homes. Sonia also brushed aside criticism about the terrible conditions prevailing in the relief camps, saying that “the refugees are getting their ration regularly, only two children are unwell and there are doctors to attend on them.”
She, however, had to admit that there was too much congestion at the camps. Apart from visiting two camps in Kokrajhar, where the refugees are mostly Bodos, and three camps in Dhubri, mostly inhabited by the minority community, Sonia met Bodoland Territorial Council Chief Hagrama Mohilary and representatives of the Bodoland Peoples Front, All Bodo Students Union, All Koch Rajbhansi Students Union, All Bodoland Minority Students and Bodo Sahitya Sabha.
Besides, she found time to meet senior members of the district Congress.