Two pro-talk United Liberation Front of Assam leaders were arrested in Assam on Friday for their "provocative remarks" as a massive combing operation was launched to nab those behind the gunning down of five persons in Tinsukia district with chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal blaming "hate speeches" by political parties for the killings.
The Assam government announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh and a job for the next of the kin of the deceased.
Though the police suspect that the gunmen belonged to the ULFA-Independent faction as they were dressed in battle fatigue, 'publicity department' member of the outlawed group Romel Asom, in an e-mail statement, however, denied its involvement in Thursday's incident.
In neighbouring West Bengal, the ruling Trinamool Congress organised protest marches and sought a court-monitored inquiry into the killing of the five Bengali-speaking individuals.
They also called for the resignation of the Assam chief minister over the incident. Left parties, too, took to the streets in Kolkata to protest the killings.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee expressed deep anguish over the incident and said "a sense of sadness descended on my mind seeing innocent and poor persons being killed in a village in Assam".
She changed her display picture to black on Twitter along with other leaders of her party. "I don't know why these people were killed, but one thing is for sure, the ominous signals have started surfacing," she said.
The TMC also sought to link the attack as a "fallout of the draconian NRC exercise".
Over 40 lakh people are facing deportation from India as their names have been excluded in the NRC draft, TMC Youth Congress president and MP Abhisekh Banerjee told a rally in Kolkata.
He sought a court-monitored inquiry into the incident.
On Thursday night, a group of assailants called out six villagers of Kheronibari.
They then took them to the edge of Dhola-Sadiya bridge in the area and opened indiscriminate fire, killing five of them on spot, police said, adding one of them survived the firing.
Sahadeb Namasudra, in his early 20s, said he had a "providential escape" as he fell off the edge of the bridge, where the gunmen had lined them up.
Though he did not sustain injuries, he fell unconscious out of fear and nervousness. On regaining consciousness, he found one of the five persons still alive beside him, Namasudra claimed, adding the man died before any arrangement for help could be made.
Chief Minister Sonowal warned of strong action against those who make inflammatory statements.
"The perpetrators of this dastardly violence will not go scot-free. We will not tolerate such cowardly act," he said.
"For this situation today, I hold responsible a section of political parties, organisations, news media, social media and people's representatives for their inflammatory statements," Sonowal told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting in Guwahati.
Assam Director General of Police Kuladhar Saikia said several operations were underway to nab the culprits. He said pro-talk ULFA leaders Jiten Dutta and Mrinal Hazarika were arrested for making provocative statements.
Asked about the involvement of ULFA factions in the killings, the DGP said, "It isn't about taking random names. We will take action as per law."
Political parties and organisations across Assam condemned the killings and demanded that the culprits be immediately nabbed.
A bandh, called by All Assam Bengali Federation, was observed on Friday in Tinsukia district. Vehicles were off roads and shops were closed. No untoward incident was reported in the morning, a police
The ruling BJP said the incident was a result of the Congress party continuously making provocative statements on sensitive issues such as the NRC and the Citizenship Bill.
Assam BJP president Ranjeet Kumar Dass also criticised a section of the media for broadcasting provocative statements uninterruptedly, thereby vitiating the atmosphere.
He asked the Assam government to set up a judicial probe into the incident.
Countering the BJP leader's claims, veteran Congress leader and former chief minister Tarun Gogoi said the Sonowal-led government has failed to maintain law and order in the state.
He also sought a CBI probe into Thursday's incident.