The Centre had alerted the Assam government about possibilities of targeted attacks on Bengalis by ULFA militants in the last week of October.
This was based on intelligence reports partly on signals intercept of ULFA communications and partly on assessment of rising ethnic tensions, which the ULFA was expected to use to revive its grip amongst the ethnic Assamese.
The Intelligence Bureau alerts were marked with the highest threat grading by the Home Ministry.
While it was expected that the ULFA would strike in Upper Assam where it still retained some hit capability, the exact spot of the attack was anybody’s guess.
Insurgent groups under pressure from security forces usually use such killings to push the counter-insurgency grid in a defensive mode so that they have to deploy additional forces to guard sensitive mixed populated villages like the one that was attacked near the Dhola bridge.
That deprives the grid of surplus forces that could be used for proactive offensive operations.
While that surely could be an important consideration for ULFA, the political reasons were more pressing.
With the BJP encouraging its Bengali leaders to get aggressive to push for support on the citizenship amendment Bill, it was inevitable that there would be a sharp reaction among the ethnic Assamese.
That backlash had already become evident during the Assam bandh to protest against the citizenship amendment Bill.
For the ULFA which is down and out in the jungles of Myanmar, this was the right time to strike, not the least because even former guerillas of the group who had surrendered or were negotiating with Delhi had also come out strongly against the bill.
The pro talks faction has already indicated it would not go for a settlement with the Centre unless it gave an explicit assurance to drop the Citizenship Amendment Bill or at least keep Assam out of its purview.
To raise the passion level among the ethnic Assamese by playing on the shrill rhetoric of the likes of Shiladitya Deb helps the ULFA regain its recruitment base which had faced considerable erosion in recent years.
The ULFA has a history of such targeted killings. A decade ago, the Hindi speaking settlers were at the receiving end during that orgy of violence . Now it is the Bengalis.
But then despite such tell tale signs of its doing, why would the ULFA deny involvement!
Here again there is a history of such involvement stridently denied but proved. The bomb blasts that killed the school children at Dhemaji is one of the many such instances. The ULFA seeks to retain a moral high ground because it is aware of the antipathy to violence among large sections of the Assamese.
There is already a demand from sections of the state BJP and other political parties that Chief Minister Sonowal should resign for failing to act firmly.
The demand is strongest among the Bengali leaders who blame government inaction to protect their people.
This would certainly help those in the BJP who wish for a change of leadership –and those who aspire to replace Sonowal.