DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
The peace talks between the ULFA and the Government that began in 2011 may now take a new turn with the induction of the outfit’s general secretary Anup Chetia in the peace process. In a lengthy conversation with this writer this week, Chetia said he was planning to introduce certain new demands in the charter already submitted to the Centre. “The new demands would be in the political, social and economic sphere and would be solely aimed at the interest of Assam’s indigenous communities and groups and the overall interest of the State,” he said. Chetia, of course, added that any new demand would have to be approved by the outfit’s central committee.
Chetia gave leadership to the ULFA in the first two decades since its formation and spent the next two decades in Bangladeshi prisons after his arrest in Dhaka in December 1997 on charges of illegal entry etc. He was handed over to Indian authorities in November last year and has been released on bail by courts in Guwahati in December. “Global politics has undergone tremendous changes in the past two decades and this has impacted on the ULFA, too,” he said. He said the ULFA would continue with its movement in a ‘democratic’ manner and keep the interest of all communities in the State.
Chetia said he was in no hurry to clinch an agreement with the Government and would keep the people of Assam informed of the provisions before any sigtures are put on the dotted lines. “This may be the last chance for Assam to get its due. We want protection of our land, particularly land belonging to our farmers, we want control over our tural resources, we want reservation of seats for different communities in the State Assembly and other Constitutiol safeguards,” Chetia said. All these, he said, are necessary for the protection of identities of the indigenous people of Assam. He ruled out any possibility of an NSCN-IM type framework agreement with the Centre as a precursor to a fil settlement.
Chetia also talked about the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh. He said illegal migrants can be detected with the existing provisions but present legal arrangements between India and Bangladesh may not make it possible for deportation of such identified people. “I would expect India to try and reach an agreement with Bangladesh so that Dhaka could actually take back its people who had illegally migrated to India. If that does not happen, then such people should be dispersed across India so that Assam alone does not have to take the burden. The same should apply to those Bangladeshi Hindus who the Government plans to accord citizenship or would be allowed to stay on,” Chetia said.
What would be the ULFA’s stand for the ensuing State Assembly elections? “We shall maintain a neutral stand. Our cadres who are in desigted camps will not take any part in the polls. But if any of our members who had come overground in the past decides to contest or support anyone, we have nothing to say,” Chetia said. He denied charges that the ULFA had backed or opposed political parties in Assam in the past. “These were creations of the media.” Talking about regiol parties, he said regiolism was not just relevant in Assam, it is relevant across India. “Regiol parties in Assam are in a pathetic state today because of certain mistakes committed by their leaders. It is sad,” Chetia said.
Would he like ULFA (Independent) leader Paresh Baruah to rethink his position and come forward for talks? “Paresh Baruah has the right to carry on with the movement. But, we are interested in creating a congenial situation in Assam that can encourage Paresh Baruah to come and join in the peace process,” he said. Chetia, of course, agrees that peace has to be an inclusive one so that it can last long. And yes, once again, he has apologised to the people of Assam for mistakes, even if idvertently, committed by the ULFA in the past.