DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
Top ULFA leader Anup Chetia, detained in Bangladesh since December 1997, arrived in India this week. Bangladesh Home Ministry authorities gave the impression Chetia has completed his jail term and has been allowed to return home in India ‘as per his wish’. Some accounts say he has been taken in custody by the CBI (Interpol) after he was handed over by Bangladeshi authorities. How he returned to India is not the most important issue, but what is clear is that Chetia may have withdrawn his plea to Dhaka for political asylum or it could be that Bangladesh rejected his asylum plea, making way for his passage to India.
The detained ULFA leader’s return to India to face the law has once again reinforced the fact that bilateral ties between New Delhi and Dhaka has consolidated in recent months. As Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said, ‘Chetia’s return is a significant development...the Prime Minister has been in touch with his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasi...’ Beginning 2010, soon after Sheikh Hasi’s Awami League Government assumed office, Bangladesh has been handing over North-east Indian insurgent leaders and cadres to authorities in India. ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and others were among those handed over. Dhaka’s crackdown on the Chittagong arms haul case, in which ULFA leader Paresh Baruah was directly med, had in fact forced Baruah to flee the country. These developments indicate the strategic depth in ties between the two neighbours.
The CBI may have now taken custody of Anup Chetia on various charges and cases the ULFA leader have against him in police stations across Assam and will eventually hand him over to the Assam Police. The law, of course, will take its own course, but the big question is whether Chetia will join the process of the peace talks that the ULFA group headed by Arabinda Rajkhowa is holding with the Government of India. That is a possibility because Rajkhowa and other ULFA leaders have been saying since 2011 that New Delhi should mount pressure on Dhaka to facilitate Chetia’s return to India so that he could join the peace talks. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, too, demanded, rather forcefully, that Chetia be handed over to the Assam Police, for him to pass through the due process of law. If Chetia decides to be part of the peace dialogue, the Government may not oppose his bail plea, thus making it possible for him to come out of prison and be part of the peace process.
The big question now is whether Chetia, in the event of his joining the peace process, will come to accept the core demands put forward by the Rajkhowa group before the Government in that manner or prefer certain modifications. Whatever it is, if Chetia joins the talks, it will certainly speed up the peace process and even enthuse the Centre to pull up its socks and get down to the business of sealing it. The timing is just right for the Modi Government to try and bring about an acceptable solution to the ULFA issue because elections to the Assam Assembly is due in about six months and a peace accord with an insurgent group is always an issue for any government to claim credit. Once a peace agreement is clinched with the Rajkhowa group of the ULFA, New Delhi may turn its attention to the anti-talk group headed by the elusive Paresh Baruah.