Paresh Baruah, chief of what is left of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), is on record as saying that he is not alone and that the ULFA is still active and committed to the objective of securing the kind of autonomy and independence that Assam had in its days of past glory. The trouble with many terrorist leaders with persol agendas is that they all tend to forget that Assam was a part of India and chose to remain a part of India when the country became independent in 1947. This was a matter of popular choice and not something that anyone had coerced the people of Assam to do. And had it chosen to remain a small independent country with abundant tural resources and very weak leaders, it would have been annexed by neighbouring powers even without their physical presence in Assam. The State would have merely gone from British rule to other modes of foreign domition by remote control. In any case, the ULFA came into being only in 1979, far too late for any major social political change to be of indisputable benefit to the people of the State.
However, this is only one facet of the people’s lack of convincing support to terrorist outfits promising to liberate them from the ‘shackles’ of the New Delhi regime. It did not take very long for the people to realize that the ULFA and similar terrorist outfits of the Northeast were far more interested in the creature comforts, aspirations and persol wealth of their leaders, and that they had very little genuine interest in the welfare of the State and its people. On the contrary, the ULFA sustained itself mainly on extortions from well-to-do people in the State who had, by and large, prospered from hard work. There were hefty extortions also from people in the tea industry from other parts of the country who had also prospered from their hard work. In a sense, therefore, the objective of the ULFA seemed to be to pelize anyone who prospered from worthwhile enterprise and hard work so that the leaders of the outfit could live a life of luxury. The five-star lifestyle of the ULFA top brass was very visible not only in Dhaka but also in Bangkok when the outfit was having parleys with Tata Tea officers (of those days).
Perhaps what alieted the ULFA almost totally from the people was that after a few weeks of development work in some villages, the outfit turned its back completely on the people of the State and concentrated solely on the task of arming itself through extortion. Those who had nursed vain hopes of the ULFA working for the betterment of the people of Assam were soon disillusioned when they experienced the outfit’s total rejection of the people. In this respect, the ULFA leadership turned out to be no better than the elected leaders of the State. This alietion was further underscored after the ULFA’s bomb explosion in Dhemaji on Republic Day of 2004, that killed 13 people (including 10 children). While Arabinda Rajkhowa regards the Dhemaji massacre as one of ULFA’s biggest mistakes and has apologized to the families of the victims, Paresh Baruah suffers from no thoughts of remorse. All that he has to say is: “People should have been aware and we alerted people not to take part in programmes such as the Republic Day.” But does he expect the people of the State to be as unmoved by the mindless killing of 10 innocent children as he has himself been?
It is hardly surprising that the ULFA-I has lost almost all the support that it might have commanded among the people of Assam. What little support Paresh Baruah and his few followers still command is derived through intimidation—through the muzzle of a gun. Obviously, Paresh Baruah is not entirely alone. He still has a handful of lieutents. But he will never again get any spontaneous or voluntary support from the people. Perhaps a lean and small organization is just what Paresh Baruah wants today. A smaller outfit is much better suited to the present functions of the ULFA-I—of intimidation and extortion.