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ULFA (I) imbroglio: Litmus test for CM Himanta Biswa Sarma

Peace, prosperity and the future of Assam largely depend on solving the ULFA imbroglio.


Sentinel Digital Desk

Chandramohan Kakati


Peace, prosperity and the future of Assam largely depend on solving the ULFA imbroglio. Much water has flown down the River Brahmaputra since the PCG was formed in 2005, with high hope for a settlement. The PCG tried to bring the GOI and the ULFA to the negotiating table. But that too did not bring any result as hardliners within the bureaucracy and the army who were dead against any talk and opted for an all-out offensive against the ULFA and its sympathizers. Bowing down to such pressure, the Government of India endorsed a full-scale operation against the ULFA and scores of ULFA cadres were gunned down in encounters by the Indian Army.

Since operation halted settlement to the problem, eminent litterateur Dr Mamoni (Indira) Raisom Goswami, who was the most trusted of ULFA 'c-in-c' Paresh Barua, soon after opting out of PCG had mediated between the ULFA and the government. However, Dr Mamoni Raisom Goswami also failed to break the deadlock. ULFA termed the Government of India's talk offers a delaying tactic. The ULFA alleged that that the Government of India was more interested in letting its army loose on the people of Assam instead of solving the problem, and charges and counter-charges shadowed the possibility of a historic solution to a vexing problem. It is an underlying historical fact that nowhere in the world, freedom movement or militancy as the case may be curbed by using force since we know that force will be met with force. Hence, it's high time to create a conducive atmosphere for formal talks to hammer out a solution to the long-standing conflict between the GOI and the ULFA.

On earlier occasions, efforts to have peace talks were failed over the question of sovereignty. ULFA had put a precondition that without the issue of sovereignty being placed in the negotiating table, talks could not be held. For bringing back peace to the State, Mamoni Raisom Goswami said- "Assam could not attain sovereignty but the issue must be discussed to bring ULFA to the negotiating table and to know their other demands. The government could also ask ULFA why they wanted sovereignty and after interactions of both sides, ULFA's other demands would become transparent and if these could be fulfilled then other issues might be compromised". If GOI can have talks on shared sovereignty with NSCN (IM), talks with ULFA can also be started in the same vein. The signing of the Naga Peace Accord on August 2, 2015, is historic no doubt, but details of the agreement which may have far-reaching ramifications concerning neighbouring states Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur is still under wrap. Although the framework agreement is not yet made public, NSCN (IM) sounds quite confident about their peace deal with the Government of India – "The Nagas do not accept the Constitution of India, but Nagas and Indians will share sovereign powers based on the Framework Agreement. We have been looking for a lasting honourable solution that will guarantee the rights of Nagas and security..." From this statement of NSCN (IM), negotiations between NSCN (IM) and GOI looks promising and encouraging for Nagas no doubt, but why not the same principle, rules and yardsticks be not applied to ULFA also for a lasting and permanent solution to the problem. People of Assam are still sceptical about the ULFA – GOI talks as no concrete development has taken place even after Union Home Minister's green signal to CM Himanta Biswa Sarma to have direct talks with ULFA's 'c-in-c' Paresh Barua. We can't go much deep into it, but as peace-loving and responsible citizens, we expect an early solution to this problem. Many a government changed in the centre after Atal Bihari Vajpayee and in our state too. In fact, in its first term, the BJP government at the Centre took a pragmatic step under the stewardship of Vajpayee to solve the Naga imbroglio and in the same vein present Prime Minister Narendra Modi had taken a bold step for a solution to the problem that had been agitating the general psyche of Nagas since 1947. But in the case of the ULFA problem peace remains a pipedream with no possible sign of meaningful approach from both sides to date.

So many changes had taken place in ULFA cadres to change the entire scenario. Many top leaders of ULFA, viz., Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, Sasadhar Chaudhury, Chitraban Hazarika, Pradip Gogoi and others came forward for dialogue with GOI; subsequently another top brass of the outfit Anup Chetia also joined the peace process after his extradition by Bangladesh. Being a very influential and astute leader of the ULFA, his joining the peace process was significant from many angles. Meanwhile, the hard-line faction of the ULFA, led by Paresh Barua has changed its name and now the outfit is known as ULFA (Independent) under the supreme command of Paresh Axom. Anup Chetia is very close to Paresh Barua, who is opposed to talks without being placed ULFA's main objective "sovereign Assam" on the table. It is believed that Chetia still has a very close tie with Paresh Barua, which can be crucial in bringing Barua to negotiating table. Though ULFA is now divided into two, any deliberations with the pro-talks faction will not deliver without Paresh Barua's participation in the peace process.

China's continuous anti-Indian belligerent activities have put North Eastern Region in a precarious situation. Considering all these aspects as also in the greater interest of India's internal and external security, the Government of India must come forward for unconditional talks with ULFA. On the other hand, ULFA(I) can't shy away from its commitment to the indigenous people of Assam. The ULFA's overall image has taken a severe beating since its formation in 1979. In the last four decades, it is fast losing control over its ground-level activists, who seem to be disillusioned with the path of violence and militancy. Assam witnessed the tragic killing of Russian engineer Sergei Gritsenko, social activist Sanjoy Ghosh, veteran journalist Kamala Saikia and many more innocent people, inflicting unbearable pain and suffering on the victim's family. All these killings had brought disrepute to ULFA's Robinhood image once it enjoyed through certain welfare measures carried out to wipe out anti-social elements, corruptions etc. ULFA must resist such kinds of killings and abductions. By such dastardly acts, they have allowed its detractors to dub the organization a terrorist group sans ideology. Indeed, lack of a transparent ideology, discipline, control over its rank and file led to a tragic incident like the Dhemaji blast, which killed 17 innocent people, including children, on Independence Day. This incident led to a massive decline in public sympathy for ULFA in Assam. ULFA must retrospect and rectify their past mistakes and work towards bridging the gap between ULFA and common people. NSCN commanded a large degree of popular support throughout Nagaland and beyond, but ULFA miserably failed in their more than four decades-long armed struggle to garner overwhelming support for their goal.

Anyway, it augurs well that the new Chief Minister of Assam Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma while addressing the media soon after taking oath emphasized the paramount need for talks with Paresh Barua for the larger interest of the state in particular and the nation in general so that peace is returned. This is no doubt a clarion call to Paresh Barua and hoped that under the able and dynamic leadership of Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam will smile again in an insurgency-free state. Chief Minister Sarma's appeal for the release of Rintu Saikia and his subsequent release by ULFA(I) indicates Paresh Barua's willingness for talks. Peace-loving people will expect more from Paresh Barua and then and then only "SONAR ASOM" will smile again after long 195 years and fulfil our decades-long desire for the bonanza! Equally one can't dispute that Chief Minister Sarma's call carries the "Silver Lining" towards bringing back peace to the state.

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