By Anil Bhat
Much blood has flown with the waters of the Brahmaputra basin and much has happened over the decades to undo the efforts of Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi in ensuring that Assam remained part of India and not erstwhile East Pakistan. After India`s Independence, he worked closely with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to secure Assam’s sovereignty vis a vis China and East Pakistan and also helped to organize the rehabilitation of millions of Hindu refugees who had fled East Pakistan due to widespread violence and intimidation in the aftermath of Partition. However, illegal migrants from East Pakistan till 1971 and Bangladesh thereafter, continuously poured into Assam and settling there and eventually spreading to many other parts of India, swelling the large number in West Bengal too.
In October 1962, when China attacked India, then Prime Minister Pandit Jawarlal Nehru made the damning statement “my heart goes out to the people of Assam” Two decades later the Assam agitation got going on the ‘foreigners’ issue culminating into lot of bloodshed, signified by Nellie and seven neighboring villages of Nagaon district, where Muslims were killed in broad daylight because they had taken part in the election and cast their vote, against the warning of those opposing the election. The official figure of those brutally killed stood at 2,191. Then came the Assam Accord, a new political party Asom Gana (AGP) and a new armed group United Liberation Front of Asom, which claimed to champion the cause of exploitation of the people of Assam by ‘Delhi Durbar’.
Confronting the State: ULFA’s Quest for Sovereignty by Nani Gopal Mahanta, which examines the complex nuances and dynamics that made ULFA a formidable insurgent group and exposes its notorious aspects, is more important as another wake-up call as it dwells on the dicey demographic shifts which have by now affected at least eleven districts of Assam and caused communal tension off and on and riots as recently as mid 2012.
The apt titles of 11 chapters of the book are: From Nationalism to Secessionism: Transformation of Assamese Identity, Assam Movement: Laying the Foundation of an Armed Struggle, Periodising ULFA’s Metamorphosis: From Liberator to Warlord(?), Parag Das: The Ideologue, ULFOcide, State Terror and Truncated Democracy, What keeps ULFA Going: Endogenous and Exogenous Factors, What Sustains ULFA?, ULFA in International Network: From Grievances to Greed, Peace Process with ULFA, Civil Society and the Indian State, Confronting the State: Exploring Ways for Sustainable Peace and Re-visiting Immigration and Identity: Issues of Human Security, Development and Sustainable Peace. Through these chapters the author systematically exposes ULFA’s deceit and treachery not only against Delhi/India but also Assam, the welfare of which it claimed to fight for/emancipate Assamese people from the “shackles of exploitation and discrimination”.
ULFA was formed on April 7, 1979 by Rajkhowa, Baruah, and six other cronies, at the Rang Ghar in Sibsagar to establish a “sovereign socialist Assam” through an armed struggle. As the Assam movement against foreigners-i.e. illegal Bangladeshi migrants built up, ULFA got busy in penetrating all departments of the state government/administration as well as researching on the assets of the business community-mainly Marwaris. It was also its halcyon period of building its Robin Hood image, while simultaneously embarking on a spree of targeting the Marwari community and tea gardens in Assam for large scale extortions at gun-point and point-blank killing of those who failed to pay up or those who earned its ‘displeasure’. It had developed the fine art of killing unarmed people or police personnel when they were not carrying arms. Unlike other North Eastern insurgents, ULFA leaders’ and cadres’ Lack of guts in taking on any armed security personnel became obvious only by end November, 1990, just before the Army launched Operation Bajrang, Paresh Barua and the top honchos privy to an intelligence leak, escaped to Bangladesh, leaving behind thousands of cadres and lower leaders, who abandoned some camps with low-grade weapons, clothing and rations left intact. In two such camps in the dense forests of Lakhipathar and Charaiphung, the Army unearthed mass-graves of many innocent civilians, including women, brutally killed by ULFA.
In Bangladesh, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) officers posted at the Pakistani High Commission, effectively took charge of ULFA leaders. Passports in various names and travel were arranged for at least 300 ULFA cadres who were trained at Rawalpindi and other locations in Pakistan in the use of rocket launchers, explosives, assault weapons, counter intelligence and disinformation. Barua, a frequent visitor to Karachi since 1992, was reported to have met Osama bin Laden there in 1996. Sent to a camp on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, Barua not only received assurances of military help in the form of arms and ammunition, but also of co-operation and logistical support of all international organisations owing allegiance to bin Laden, including the International Jehad Council, the Tehrik-ul-Jehad, Harkat-ul-Jehadi-e-Islami (HuJI), apart from the Al Qaeda. ULFA leaders also paved the way for ISI to enter India’s North East and link up with other insurgent groups there.
ULFA’s extorted money was well invested in many ventures including media consultancies, soft drink manufacturing units, 3 to 7 hotels, a private clinic, and two motor driving schools in Dhaka. Barua reportedly personally owns /controls several businesses in Bangladesh, including a tannery, a chain of departmental stores, garment factories, travel agencies, shrimp trawlers and transport and investment companies. His split with Rajkhowa was over sharing of these spoils, at least 75% of which Barua controls, while ULFA’s cadres roughed it out in Assam’s jungles.
In 2000, ULFA killed at least 100 Hindi-speaking people and its 2007 new year’s gift to ISI was the massacre of over 70 Bihari migrant workers settled for decades in Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, and Dhemaji. The second attack came as an immediate direct response to Chief Minister Gogoi’s offer to ULFA for peace talks while discounting sovereignty from the dialogue agenda.
ULFA’s neck-deep involvement in narco-terrorism connected with Myanmar, i.e., trafficking of narcotics and illicit arms by and for terrorist groups in India’s North East, got further exposed after a three of its operatives were captured by Indian Army in December 2006 with Rs 103 lacs and heroin -based brown sugar related to a narco-arms deal involving Myanmar’s military junta and Kachin Independence Organisation. Chinese arms were supplied to ULFA with Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA) and Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam (MULFA) facilitating their traffic through Bangladesh.
ULFA’s deafening silence on the steady influx from Bangladesh, the very issue which lead to the 1983 agitation and riots and was its platform to popularity as ‘saviours of Assam’ was broken in the 15 December 2006 issue of its mouthpiece, translated “Freedom”, which published that Biharis, Rajasthanis, Bengalis and Marwaris, who migrated to Assam were “illegal migrants” and that “Indian occupational forces”, including the Indian Army and all non-Assamese Indians must be expelled from Assam before those who had trespassed into it from Bangladesh and Nepal.
As an absolute tool of ISI for over two decades, ULFA’s wide range of anti-national deeds including sabotage, spreading fake Indian currency and being a major catalyst in the process of causing demographic shifts in Assam coupled with the State Government’s consistenlyt soft and vote-bank based policy have already cost both Assam and the country dearly. While Sheikh Hasina’s government has indeed made meaningful moves on cooperation against terrorby handing over some of its hard core leaders, Baruah and his followers , c/o China, Burma or wherever , are continuing anti-India operations and trying hard to revive violence in Assam-this time with Chinese help. ULFA is also involved in supplying Chinese arms to Naxal-Maoists and arranging for them to come to Assam.
In November 1998, then Governor of Assam, Lt Gen S.K. Sinha submitted a report titled Illegal Migration into Assam to the President of India, in which he brought out that the Muslim population of Assam had risen 77.42 % from 1971 to 1991 and that whereas Dhubri, Goalpapra, Barpeta and Hailakandi had already become Muslim majority districts, Nagaon, Karimganj and Moirgaon would soon become so. By 2008, when this writer’s book Assam Terrorism and the Demograhic Challenge was written, Muslims had gained majority in at least eight districts of Assam. According to an article titled “Muslim voter`s number shoot up in Assam due to Bangladeshi infilatration”, published in Breaking News on 09 January,2012, in Assam`s electoral roll , the Muslim dominated Barpeta district had seen highest – 4.97 per – cent increase in voters, which is highest in the State. And in Barpeta district, Baghpor Assembly Constituency witnessed 8.65 per cent increase in the number of voters compared to the draft electoral roll. The article enumerated that the number of voters in Udalguri, Darrang, Sonitpur, Morigaon, Nagaon, Golaghat, Jorhat, Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Dibrugarh and Tinsukia had increased at the rates of 1.82 per cent, 2.44 per cent, 1.43 per cent, 1.78 per cent, 2.38 per cent, 1.38 per cent, 0.25 per cent, 2.97 per cent, 1.78 per cent, 1.08 per cent and 1.69 per cent respectively.
Some of the factors the author mentions causing ULFA’s decline, apart from the mass graves in Lakhipathar and Charaiphung, are the indiscriminate killings of Russian engineer Sergei Grishchenko, activist Sanjay Ghosh and ONGC engineer T S Raju among hundreds of people, support to Pakistan during Kargil war, support to Bangladeshi immigrants and the Dhemaji school bombing on Independence Day in 2004 that claimed over 15 lives, mostly children – not to mention disruption of life in Assam countless times by destroying the state’s public assets and ‘bandhs’.
(Anil Bhat is Editor, WordSword Strategic Affairs Features or Independent strategic analyst.)