Soon after taking over as Assam’s chief minister last year, Himanta Biswa Sarma vowed that his government would bring all insurgent groups to the mainstream within the next five years, as he appealed to Paresh Baruah and other ULFA members to join the peace process.
ULFA was established in 1979 to create a sovereign Assam, and over the years went on to become the biggest militant outfit in the region. 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 a terrorist threat.
While the organisation attempted to bifurcate its ‘political’ and ‘military’ wings with a faction led by former ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, joining the peace process in 2011, Baruah has been steadfastly against participating in any peace talks and has rebuffed all offers to come to the table till date. Yet, Himanta Biswa Sarma is a hard man to ignore. So, Paresh Baruah and ULFA-I have repeatedly been extending olive branches to the Assam and Indian governments, and their latest outreach shows how the group is slowly realising that peace is the only way forward.
No Bandh on Republic Day in Assam
The United Liberation Front of Assam or ULFA-Independent (ULFA-I) has decided not to call for a bandh on Republic Day 2022. The outfit has also decided not to conduct any armed protests on January 26. Interestingly, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had recently appealed to the outfit not to declare any bandh or issue any boycott call on January 26.
Himanta Biswa Sarma took to Twitter to thank ULFA-I for respecting India’s celebration of its status as a Republic. He said, “’I welcome ULFA’s decision not to call a bandh and desist from any resistance during Republic Day. I take this opportunity to once again appeal to Shri Paresh Baruah to come forward for a meaningful discussion with the Government of India.”
I welcome ULFA's decision not to call a bandh and desist from any resistance during Republic Day. I take this opportunity to once again appeal to Shri Paresh Baruah to come forward for a meaningful discussion with Govt of India
— Himanta Biswa Sarma (@himantabiswa) January 23, 2022
Last year, in a significant development, the banned ULFA-I had decided not to boycott Independence Day celebrations 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 also ramped up its violent activities on the said days.
Not just Assam, but nearly all states in Northeast India used to witness bandh calls and some sort of violent boycotts of national holidays like Independence Day and Republic Day. However, ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi rose to power, boycotts of such national celebrations have become a thing of the past in Northeast India. Today, all states in the region wholeheartedly celebrate India’s Independence and Republic Days.
Prime Minister Modi expects Himanta Biswa Sarma to bring all the separatist leaders to the mainstream and end the insurgency in the Northeast. And Sarma started working on this right from the day he took oath as Assam’s chief minister. He gave a call to separatist groups to drop their arms and come for talks.
Within five days of the clarion call, ULFA-I declared a unilateral ceasefire for the next three months, and the same has been extended by the outfit ever since. So, since May 2021, ULFA has paused its armed operations and is also not calling for bandh in the state of Assam. Indian authorities too have stepped back from conducting any operations against ULFA-I.
Assam, under the leadership of Himanta Biswa Sarma, is set to celebrate its first bandh-free Republic Day this year. The significance of this development cannot be explained enough. It is big and marks the complete political and cultural unification of the Northeast with mainland India.