Assam, the hotbed of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), was on edge on Thursday as thousands of angry protesters came out on streets defying curfew, thumbing their nose at Army contingents staging flag marches, and clashing with police across cities.
Police opened fire in Lalung Gaon in Guwahati after protesters hurled stones at its personnel. Though there was no official word about the incident, protesters claimed four of them were injured in firing.
Guwahati resembled a garrison town with Army, paramilitary and state police personnel stationed in every nook and corner, watching helplessly, as frenzied mobs blocked roads with burning discarded tyres and menaced commuters by bludgeoning their vehicles with sticks and stones.
In a series of tweets, in both Assamese and English, PM Modi said he personally and the Central government are "totally committed to constitutionally safeguard the political, linguistic, cultural and land rights of the Assamese people as per the spirit of Clause 6." Clause 6 of the Assam Accord guarantees safeguarding local rights, language and culture.
Internet services in 10 districts have been suspended for another 48 hours beginning 12 pm to prevent "misuse" of social media to disturb peace and tranquility, and to maintain law and order, officials said.
Internet services will remain suspended in Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Charaideo, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Kamrup (Metro) and Kamrup, Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Sanjay Krishna told PTI.
The Railways has suspended all passenger train services in Tripura and Assam and short-terminated long distance trains to the region at Guwahati following protests in the two states over the passage of CAB, a railway spokesperson told PTI in New Delhi on Thursday.
The decision was taken on Wednesday night in view of the security situation in the region, Northeast Frontier Railway spokesperson Subhanan Chanda said, adding many passengers are stranded in Kamakhya and Guwahati.
After a railway station in Dibrugarh's Chabua, the hometown of the Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, was set on fire late Wednesday night besides the Panitola railway station in Tinsukia, 12 companies of the Railway Protection Special Force (RPSF) have been dispatched to the region, RPF chief Arun Kumar told PTI in New Delhi.
"Passengers are stranded and we are trying to help them as much as possible. We are mulling to run special trains to ferry these passengers, but are still weighing if the risk is worth it.
"It might be a security threat for passengers if protesters stop the trains. As of now all passenger trains have been suspended and trains from outside the region are being short terminated at Guwahati," Chanda said.
An unspecified number of flights to the northeast including Guwahati were rescheduled or cancelled, an official of the Kolkata airport said.
As protests continued, The Information and Broadcasting ministry issued an advisory to private satellite TV channels to be cautious about airing content is likely to incite violence, promote anti-national attitudes and contain anything affecting the integrity of the nation.
The advisory was issued after some TV channels showed footage of violent protests.
Heads rolled in the police establishment because of incessant protests with the state's BJP government removing Guwahati Police commissioner Deepak Kumar and appointing Munna Prasad Gupta in his place.
Additional director general of police (law and order) Mukesh Agarwal was also transferred and replaced by ADGP (CID) GP Singh.
The streets of Guwahati and other cities reverberated with anti-government slogans as thousands marched through the streets cocking a snook at security forces to attend a rally called by the All Assam Students Union (AASU) at Latashil ground.
"Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal have betrayed the people of Assam by ensuring passage of the Bill," AASU advisor Samujjal Bhattacharya told the gathering.
Leaders of the AASU and the North East Students' Organization (NESO) said they will observe December 12 as 'Black Day' every year in protest against the passage of the Bill in Parliament.
In Dibrugarh's Chabua, the hometown of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, local MLA Binod Hazarika's residence was set on fire. Vehicles parked in the building that also houses his office were torched by protestors, an official said.
The circle office in the town was also burned down by them, he said.
Kamrup district observed total shutdown with offices, schools and colleges closed for the day. Shops were also shut, with no vehicles plying on major roads.
Police said it fired three rounds in air in Rangia town as protesters threw stones and burnt tyres. Agitators were also baton-charged at several places in the town.
Apart from Guwahati and Dibrugarh, where an indefinite curfew is in place, curfew has been imposed in Jorhat from 6 pm to 6 am to prevent vandalism at night, deputy commissioner Roshni Korati said.
Five columns of Army, comprising around 70 personnel each, have been deployed in the state and are conducting flag marches in important cities like Guwahati, Tinsukia, Jorhat and Dibrugarh.