Terror fails to scare investors away, Assam on the move

By Syed Zarir Hussain, IANS

Guwahati : The cycle of violence, including the spate of kidnappings and extortions by separatists, have slowed the pace of investments in Assam, although the unsavoury incidents have failed to scare investors away.

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“The recent incidents of violence did have some impact on the economic front but Assam is moving ahead compared to insurgency-afflicted states like Jammu and Kashmir. Investors are unscathed by such incidents and still showing interest,” Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told IANS.

The chief minister, however, said militants were trying to extort money from business houses to fund their rebel campaign.

“All these kidnappings were done purely for extortion purposes by the militants. Money is what they (rebels) want,” Gogoi said.

The state has witnessed a spurt in abductions by militants – 13 people kidnapped since April, including 12 Sunday night. Three of the hostages died in captivity.

Food Corporation of India executive director Phulchand Ram – kidnapped by militants of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) April 17 – was killed in crossfire Thursday.

Kailash Jha, manager of the Cement Corporation of India, was found dead Monday, a day after he was abducted by tribal Karbi rebels.

Another state government engineer Ajay Deka – taken hostage Sunday – was found dead a day later near Guwahati. A group of surrendered ULFA rebels was reportedly involved in the murder.

To counter rebel threats, the Assam government is now planning to rope in ex-servicemen and the home guards for ensuring security of company officials in the state.

“We are having shortage of adequate central paramilitary forces in the state and so we are now thinking of involving ex-servicemen and home guards for providing security,” the chief minister said.

The government has also asked officials of public and private sector undertakings, vulnerable to rebel threats, to be on their guard.

“The officials should also be careful and follow security advisories given to them by the authorities while executing their duties,” Gogoi said.

The violence notwithstanding, foreign investors were keen on doing business in Assam – private investors from the US and Britain assured Gogoi of support during his recent visit to the two countries.

“I am not expecting miracles out of my visit to the two countries but it was a good beginning as we managed to establish contacts and (met) investors keen to do business here.

“People are interested to invest in sectors like petroleum, bio-diesel, healthcare, besides organic farming,” the chief minister said.

Spurred by the interest, the Assam government is planning a mega event in Britain to display the state’s investment potential, besides promoting its rich art and culture.

“There is no doubt that we would get investments from the two countries in the very near future,” Gogoi said.

The bottom-line, however, remains that Assam wants peace and an end to insurgency for all-round economic development.

“Peace is the foremost requirement and so I am once again reiterating that our doors for talks with the ULFA are always open. But at the same time we cannot slow down our counter-insurgency operations,” the chief minister said.

Whether the carrot-and-stick policy will yield results is another matter, but Gogoi said the state must move on with development being the mantra of his government.

“We want development to continue unhindered,” he said.