The 21st planter to have been killed by militant groups in Assam, Adilur Rahman was also a director of Hotel Dynasty, Guwahati’s first four-star hotel. His two estates together produce about 10 lakh kg of tea per annum.
Rahman was shot around 12.30 pm as he was going from the Tejalpatti tea estate to the Mahaluxmi estate. Both estates are located in Sonitpur district close to the Assam-Arunachal border and belong to Mohijuli Tea Company, of which he was the proprietor. The area is a stronghold of the faction of the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland opposed to talks.
Dhiraj Kakati, secretary of the Assam branch of the Indian Tea Association, said while the killing was an act of “cowardice”, the industry was bound to be terrified. Attacking the government for failure to contain militant groups, he said: “They (the rebels) chose a soft target and intend to terrorise and cripple the tea industry that had started to look up only now after a series of adversities in recent years.”
The last such killing of a planter was six years ago.
Since Rahman’s killing, there have been spontaneous bandhs and protests in Sootea, the town nearest to his plantations in Sonitpur, as well as at Lakhtokia in Guwahati where his hotel was located. Adilur Rahman’s family also owns an automobile car dealership in the Assam capital.
The police have rounded up at least six persons. Sonitpur SP Apurba Jiban Baruah told The Indian Express over phone from Tezpur: “We strongly suspect it to be the handiwork of the anti-talks faction of the NDFB. An operation has been launched to track down the culprits.”
While Rahman’s PSO Motilal Tirkey put up a brave fight, the assailants first shot him and then chased Rahman into a village and pumped at least six bullets into him.
Kakati said while the tea industry had been provided a special Assam Tea Plantation Security Force, PSOs such as Tirkey stood no chance against militant groups. “Our people are like sitting ducks. Those posted in remote areas, like estates close to the inter-state or international borders, are even more vulnerable because of bad roads and remoteness from police stations,” he said.
Kakati added that despite most of the militant groups being in talks with the government, tea planters continue to receive extortion demands and threatening SMSes and phone calls. “Such things are common especially in Tinsukia district in upper Assam, but we always keep the administration and police informed,” he said.
Surendra Paul, the managing director of Assam Frontier Tea Company, a subsidiary of the Apeejay group, had been among the first planters killed in Assam. He had been gunned down by ULFA rebels on April 9, 1990, in Dibrugarh. Rahman is the 21st casualty in the 22 years since.