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Assam: Victim of Dichotomy?

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Assam: Victim of Dichotomy

Although United Liberation Front of Assom (ULFA) has initiated peace talks with the government for ending the thirty years of insurgency in the state of Assam, yet the organization has continued to place troubles for the state and this time it came as a claim for special status to Assam, just like Jammu and Kashmir. One of the prominent leaders of the organization was recently found stating that the group wants the Constitution of India “overhauled vis-a-vis Assam” to give the state special the special status, similar to Jammu and Kashmir.

The foreign secretary of ULFA, Sashadhar Chowdhury, said that:

“Basic demand will be to overhaul the constitution because that is the sovereign instrument with which a country is governed”.

Besides, the other demands, which United Liberation Front of Asom aims to place to the Government, are

  • Opposition against the demand for a separate Bodoland
  • A solution in a definite time frame
  • The decision for ‘commander-in-chief’ Paresh Barua to be taken by Arabinda Rajkhowa

Sashadhar Chowdhury also said:

“Ethnic reconciliation in Assam and the problems arising out of it comes from the constitution of India. That’s why it has to change,”

He added that following the peace talks with the Government, the organization would ensure:

“No one goes back to the jungle again, takes up arms again, start a fresh insurgency………”We will ensure that we Assamese should come to Delhi on our own terms.”

To quote Sashadhar Chowdhury on the issue of opposition for demanding a separate Bodoland

“We don’t want a separate Bodoland. We have a history of living together for 5,000 years. We have to stay together. Every ethnic group should stay together in Assam with own equal rights, and preservation of their own socio-cultural ethics and language.”

The ULFA, among the biggest rebel organization in the tea state of Assam, has since the year 1979 fought in demand for a separate homeland for the state. In the process more than 10,000 people among whom mostly were civilians, have lost their lives in Assam as a result of the fight between the rebel group and the forces of the Government. Isn’t that a matter of concern for the state? After all it’s mostly the innocent people who are paying the price? Who would take on the responsibility: the Government or the ULFA?

Demand for a separate status for Assam on one hand and peace talks on the other: that’s the situation now for Assam; seems that Assam: Victim of Dichotomy! Following the decision of ULFA to go for peace talks with the Government in order to finish off the insurgency in Assam, a group of members from the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) decided to meet the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh. An 8 member team from the ULFA, led by Arabinda Rajkhowa, the Chairman, met the Government for a courtesy call. According to one of the officials, the meeting was “a kind of introductory” activity following the 1st round of official peace talks between the Government and the United Liberation Front of Assam. The group also visited the Home Secretary G.K. Pillai and the Home Minister P. Chidambaram.

Both the sides decided to make a 8 member core body under G.K. Pillai, the Home Secretary for taking forward the peace process. The discussion was supposed to revolve round issues such as surrender policy, designated camps, and different issues to maintain peace in Assam etc. The group consisted of a joint secretary from the Northeast, who would coordinate the process, followed by 3 members from the ULFA and 2 Government representatives each from the central and the state.

Before the meeting, the ULFA chairman, Arabinda Rajkhowa said to the journalists that:

“We are quite hopeful the peace talks due to begin Thursday would help in resolving the three decades long Assam-India conflict.”

The ULFA team also met the Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi at the official residence, after which the Chief Minister said that:

“We are very optimistic that permanent peace would dawn in Assam.”

Apart from the chairman of United Liberation Front of Assam, Arabinda Rajkhowa, the other members of the ULFA organization, who took part in the peace talks were Pradep Gogoi, the vice chairman, Sasha Choudhury, the self-styled foreign secretary, Raju Baruah, the deputy commander-in-chief, Chitraban Hazarika, the finance secretary, Pranati Deka, the cultural secretary and Bhimkanta Buragohain, the senior political.

All these prominent ULFA leaders have been out on bail as the government facilitated the release of these leaders from the prison, paving their way for the official peace talks.

The very-hyped peace talks, however, have got a major hit-back with Paresh Baruah, the commander-in-chief of the United Liberation Front of Assam, who is believed to be hiding somewhere around the border of China-Myanmar, rejecting the proposal. Paresh Baruah was conveyed the ULFA’s decision and the various resolutions adopted to go for the unconditional peace discussions with the Government of India.

Arunodoi Dohotia, the publicity secretary of ULFA, stated through an email that

“The decision taken by the general council to hold peace talks with the government cannot be considered legal as the general council itself was unconstitutional.”

In regards to the commander-in-chief’s (ULFA) rejection of the initiatives for peace talk, the Chief Minister of Assam said that

“We don’t think the absence of one single leader would affect the peace process. We want Paresh Baruah for the talks, but at the same time cannot wait indefinitely for him.”

The United Liberation Front of Assam, popularly know as ULFA, have been a very prominent militant body not only in Assam but also in the entire north east. The organization have been for a long time in the limelight owing to its expression of interest towards negotiating with the Government of India, going for peace talks with the aim to end the insurgency in the state. However, if at all they would put their expression and interest into honest actions or not, is something that time would show us; because in the past we have seen this banned outfit going for peace discussions with the Government on one hand and not refraining from violent activities on the other!

The United Liberation Front of Assam happens to be a separatist group in the state of Assam and it is among the other groups similar in nature in the North-East of India. This group has been seeking sovereignty in the state, since a long time and believes in armed struggle. The organization was banned by the Government of India in the year 1990 by classifying it as a terrorist body. The US State Department however, counts the organization as “Other groups of concern”.

It is believed that ULFA came into existence on 7th April, 1979, at the site of Rang Ghar, which happens to be a historic structure belonging to Ahom kingdom. It is also believed that ULFA established contacts with NSCN that is Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland in the year 1983 and with KIA, functioning in Burma, in the year 1987. Major violent acts were initiated by the organization in the year 1990 while in the same year the Indian Army commenced its military actions on this rebellious body.

According to the ULFA, the organization happens to be a “revolutionary political organization” that has been involved in “liberation struggle” against the terrorism in the state and its demand towards achieving a separate status for Assam. The body believes that Assam has never been a part of India and that the people in the state are confronting several problems, the major one being the issue of national identity. Hence the organization claims that it represents the “independent minded struggling peoples” regardless of tribe, caste, race, religion and nationality.

The Indian Government has however, declared United Liberation Front of Assam as a terrorist outfit and has also banned the body by the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, in the year 1990. ULFA was charged by the Government of India as having connection with ISI that is the Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan and also DGFI from Bangladesh.

ULFA has continued to strike sporadic attacks Assam

2003

  • In the year 2003, the ULFA group had charges of killing labourers from the state of Bihar, for allegedly molesting a Mizo girl in a train passing through Bihar. This evoked anti-Bihari sentiments among those in Assam. ULFA also killed many people with Bihari origin, leaving in Assam for a long time.
  • 21st January 2003: ULFA attacked the security force (SF) camp in the district of Dibrugarh
  • 7th March 2003: ULFA carried out an attack on a police commando barrack in the town of Bongaigoan
  • 8th March 2003: ULFA activists exploded a petrol reservoir near Digboi refinery in the district of Tinsukia, with mortar bombs, which caused immense loss of property. The ULFA militants also destroyed a gas pipeline near Kathalguri in Tinsukia. 2 people were killed and 6 injured by the ULFA as they attacked the Darrangiri police outpost in the district of Goalpara
  • 16th March 2003: 6 people were killed and more than 55 were injured in an IED that is Improvised Explosive Device in one of the passenger buses in Goalpara district

2004

  • 15th August, 2004: ULFA made an explosion in Assam that took lives of more than 10 civilians, including school children as well

2007

  • January 2007: ULFA once again struck violence in Assam by killing about 62 Hindi-speaking workers, most of whom migrated from Bihar
  • 15th March 2007: ULFA triggered yet another blast in Guwahati, Assam that injured about 6 persons

Since its very inception, the United Liberation Front of Assam has been aiming at carving out a separate homeland for Assam. Lot of innocent people has lost their lives as ULFA tried to fulfill its objectives. While ULFA has been continuously posing disturbances to Assam and its people, a pertinent question that peeps in is why the body decided to go for peace discussions with the Government; only to end off the insurgency in Assam or there are other reasons as well? Regarding the issue of sovereignty, there are differences of opinion among the ULFA leaders as well. This has resulted in the surrendering of many prominent leaders in the past. Could this be one reason or is it that the organization has decided to go for peace talks owing to its declining support and popularity, within the state? The ULFA group has also lost much of its ground among the people of the region because of the continuous resort towards violence, by the group! Assam economy has also got destroyed to a major extent with no major development within the state. Is this creating a pressure on ULFA to go for negotiations with the Government?

Although the initiatives by ULFA towards peace talk is being considered encouraging, yet it is very difficult to predict whether at all the peace parleys between ULFA and the Indian Government, would lead to the ending of Assam’s insurgency. If at all durable peace would exist in the state or not is hard to say; we can only be hopeful! The ULFA in the first place need to shun off its violence and the various armed activities in which it has been involved. The insurgency of the state can only come to an end when there would be a leaving behind of certain conditions, demands, from both the parties! If ULFA can rethink about its claim for sovereignty on one hand and on the other, the Government can think of suspending the army operations in Assam, and then only peace can prevail!

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