By Anil Bhat
A recent news report in this daily about security agencies alerting the Assam police that Paresh Baruah, now heading Ulfa’s anti-talks faction, has sent 35 armed cadres to launch offensives in oil-rich Upper Assam districts and target the leaders of the pro-talk faction of Ulfa, again bring into focus some factors, which are not favorable for peace in Assam.
The report also cites authoritative security sources mentioning that among the 35 armed cadres, few are new recruits, who may try old Ulfa tactics of abducting officials of oil companies operating for Oil and Natural Gas Commission and Oil India Limited which have been resisting the Ulfa’s extortion demands and may also blow up oil pipelines to create fear psychosis. In 1991, among many persons abducted by Ulfa, were a bureaucrat and Russian engineer Sergei Grishchenko, who was later killed.
In a feature by this writer titled ‘Disarming pro-talks militants’, published in this daily on 22 April 2011, it was brought out that the “pro-talk” leaders released of the from jail moving about freely and ULFA’s symbol of the rising sun becoming visible in villages had boosted Paresh Baruah’s efforts to recruit volunteers to make good the loss of at least two battalions. This has been confirmed by the security sources saying that the anti-talk faction of Ulfa has also recruited nearly 100 new cadres sent to Burma for arms training.
It is also significant that Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi has also admitted that the anti-talks faction of Ulfa has been carrying out recruitment and extortion in Upper Assam districts.
In 1991, Ulfa supported the Hiteshwar Saikia led Congress to power not just to do down AGP, but to save its own leaders from the Army. Reportedly, there was an internal agreement between Hiteshwar Saikia and Paresh Baruah through the mediation of Rewati Phukan, a top industrialist and Paresh Baruah’s good friend and co-player when both represented Assam in football.
In 2001, Congress led by Tarun Gogoi sought Ulfa’s support from. ULFA did everything to bring Congress to power, including selection of candidates, attacks on pool booths, grenade blasts in Janata Bhawan etc. with a hope of establishing talks between the outfit and the Government.
This time around Mr Gogoi’s new year’s gift to Rajkhowa and co. of releasing them from jail, also seems to have paid up.
Taking the advantage of elections and peace-process that had slowed down the operations of the security forces, the pro-talks leaders freely moving around and creating awe amongst youth has resulted in the anti-talks Ulfa succeeding in roping some unemployed youths to join the outfit.
Security sources have reportedly admitted that free movement of the pro-talk Ulfa leaders and cadres might create some confusion for the security forces so the state government has been advised to confine them within the boundary of designated camps. While home ministry is reported to be firm on its policy of starting talks with the insurgent groups only after the surrender of arms and restricting cadres in designated camps, Ulfa has ‘reservations’ on both matters. Whereas home ministry has reportedly proposed three designated camps for about 250-300 Ulfa cadres, they want nine camps. About surrender of arms, the Ulfa leadership has been insisting on keeping the arms ‘under joint custody’. Government must certainly not allow any negotiating group to keep its arms and all surrendered leaders and cadres must be kept under close watch in designated camps.
On the possibility of anti-talks leader / leaders joining the pro-talks group, there have been two versions reported in media. One was that the Centre was arranging a meeting between a top pro-talk leader and Ulfa’s ‘general secretary’ Anup Chetia, currently lodged in a jail in Bangladesh, ostensibly to get his consent for the dialogue. This version, if true, is quite hair-brained. The other version is that two top anti-talks leaders may soon join the peace-process. Refusing to reveal their names, security sources however hinted that the process to deport them from Bangladesh back to Assam will start soon. While government must not allow any pro-talks leader to go to Bangladesh to meet Chetia, extraditing any leader/leaders under Paresh Baruah would be a clever move which is bound to affect him adversely.
Meanwhile, Ulfa’s gory past, which includes mass graves and countless attacks on innocent civilians, is reported to be catching up with it. Victims of Ulfa’s terror are demanding a say in the talks. They are seeking justice for those killed by Ulfa. Speaking to media, one victim said, “The Government and those involved in the peace talks need to know what our problems are, and what we`re thinking and must involve us directly.” While CM Gogoi has assured them of a ‘fair hearing’, it remains to be seen how he is going to provide the victims with any relief or justice, given how hard he worked at freeing from jails those guilty of heinous murders, colluding with Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and implementing all kinds of acts of war/destabilization, like massacres, sabotage, causing demographic changes, circulation of fake Indian currency etc.in Assam. So far, political expediency has been the main uncompromised priority.
The Sanmilita Jatiya Abhibartan (SJA), an intellectual umbrella body of civil society organisations of Assam, recently handed over a charter of demands to the pro-talk Ulfa faction, listing issues which could be discussed with the Centre. SJA Chief Convener Dr Hiren Gohain, a Sahitya Akademi winner, handed over the charter to Arabinda Rajkhowa in the presence of top leaders of both the organisations in Guwahati. Pro-talks leaders will discuss the charter and may redraft it to include any more of their own demands before submitting it to the Centre. Expresspmg the hope that the talks between Ulfa and Centre would lead to positive results, he is reported to have said, “I am hopeful that the talks will be fruitful as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made it clear that the Indian constitution is flexible and necessary changes could be made to fulfill the aspirations of the indigenous Assamese.” The document has included various burning issues facing the state and the indigenous Assamese population. The SJA chater demands Constitutional amendments to give Assam, and thereby its people greater control over their own future by strengthening the State`s power to control the revenues generated, the natural resources, and the planning process and ensure a secure demographic situation as well as accelerated and balanced development. Gohain said, “If the government of India and the ULFA honour the Charter in letter and spirit and do not undersell it, we may look forward to untroubled peace, true development, and vigorous growth of democracy in the region.” SJA noted that the present calm does not at all mean the return of peace. Rajkhowa told media that the outfit would press for a time-bound dialogue with the Centre and would not like the talk process to drag on for long. The next and substantive session of talks between the ULFA and the Centre is expected to be held towards end-June.
According to an Assamese daily, Paresh Baruah’s decision not to join the talks could be so that he can impact pressure on the talks. It is understood that if the entire brass of ULFA leaders and cadres comes out to open, they will be under complete dominance of the Government. Talks under domination from one side on the other might then lead to no fruitful results. The other possibility is that Paresh Baruah wants to wait and watch where the lateral talks lead to. The hardliner faction has already announced their conditional support to the talks where they have asked:
Consider ULFA armed revolution as a democratic-aspiration movement of natives of the land, keeping in mind the inception of their movement in context of time and situation.
Grant Assam a special status under the Constitution of India by an amendment under Part XXI that deals with Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions. This should enable Assam to draft a publically acceptable Constitution/Legal Document of its own.
Endow the state government with the right of self-governance and adjudication over any matter relating to socio-political-judicial issues that concern the interests of entire group or community domiciling in Assam.
There should be an official national anthem for Assam as the Indian federation will not be in a position to change its own national anthem, which grossly discriminates Assam by excluding from the most-audible federal representation.
A detailed investigation relating to the crimes committed and attributed to either belligerent parties i.e. Federal authority of India and ULFA be it the Kakopathar massacre of 2006 or the blast in Dhemaji. This is to be done through the good offices of International Humanitarian Fact Finding Commission (or any credible international organization) that are in a position to deal over issues of international and non-international armed conflicts.
This group is currently actively involved in managing many ‘businesses’, including procuring arms for Naxal-Maoists through contacts with ISI and Chinese intelligence operatives, among many other nefarious and anti-India activities.