In a significant development, the banned United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I) — an armed wing of the separatist group led by Paresh Baruah has decided not to boycott Independence Day celebrations this year or call for a shutdown on the occasion. Ever since the separatist group came into existence in 1979, demanding a separate and independent Assam, it had been boycotting the Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations and ramped up its violent activities on the said days.
Rumel Asom, a member of the publicity wing of the group released a statement which read, “In view of the Covid-19 situation….and other problems like flood, erosion and unemployment affecting indigenous populations, ULFA-I has refrained itself this time from armed protest of the fake Independence Day of colonial India or called for a ‘bandh’.”
Citing that ULFA-I was not against talks, the insurgent group also remarked, “Our organization is not against talks or belligerent. But it is not possible to deny historic facts or waver from our ideological goals in the name of talks. Indian authorities have maintained that talks with ULFA-I can’t include the question of (Assam’s) sovereignty.”
Assam’s current Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is a well-known hard taskmaster and has a tendency to deal with any situation with a firm hand. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah trust him to deal with the decades-long border conflicts, separatists and insurgency issues in the region. And Sarma, like a trusted lieutenant, has swung into action as well. Immediately after assuming the CM chair in May, Himanta gave a clarion call to the separatist groups to drop their arms and come for talks.
The chief minister said, “A dialogue with the ULFA is a two-way traffic. Paresh Baruah has to come forward. Similarly, we have to go to him. If both sides have the will, communication won’t be difficult.”
Few days after his call, ULFA-I declared a unilateral ceasefire for the next three months and said that the group was ready to resume talks.
The group which believes in establishing an independent Assam for the state’s indigenous people through armed conflict was banned by the Indian government in 1990 citing terrorist threat.
While the organisation attempted to clearly bifurcate its ‘political’ and ‘military’ wings with a faction led by former ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa joining the peace process in 2011, Baruah had been steadfastly against participating in any peace talks and had rebuffed all offers that came on the table.
However, that was before Himanta took the reins. The change in policy from Baruah depicts that a decisive change in leadership can bring the desired results. Last year, Drishti Rajkhowa alias Manoj Rabha, the deputy commander-in-chief of ULFA (I) and the second most wanted fugitive of the outfit after Baruah, surrendered in front of the forces as well.
While CM Himanta issued a warning to the banned outfit to come and sit across the table to discuss the issue and end the violence cycle, the Congress party on the other hand was in bed with ULFA-I. As reported by TFI earlier, according to former DGP of Tripura and Assam, Ghanashyam Murari Srivastava, Congress came to power in 2001 with the help of ULFA.
Srivastava said, “In 2001, ULFA was directly involved in Assam’s Assembly elections. The insurgent group helped Congress win the elections in Assam in exchange for a huge amount of money.”
He further added, “We intercepted a message of ULFA commander in chief Paresh Baruah, wherein he passed an order to their comrades to attack the candidates of Assam Gana Parishad (AGP). In the same message, he ordered the men to kill the candidates of another political party as well.”
With Himanta at the helm of affairs, one can sense that the wheels of change have started to turn. The recent border clash between Assam and Mizoram came a few days after Home Minister Amit Shah visited the Northeast to meet Sarma, other states Chief Ministers and Chief Secretaries which are part of the North-Eastern Democratic Alliance (NEDA).
Shah had asked them to resolve the border issues – suggesting that some forces did not want border peace. At the time, BJP had indirectly sent a message that Sarma was their man in the region, and that all issues regarding the border conflict resolution process and all peace talks have to go through him.
However, the political opponents and the insurgents across the two states feared that with Himanta at the helm of affairs, the border problem could be solved and thus chaos and mayhem were manufactured at the border. CM Himanta, much like the way he has stood his ground firmly through countless conflicts in the state, has now put his foot down and is determined to end the ULFA menace, once and for all.