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INTERVIEW: ULFA Is Committed To Peace: Arabinda Rajkhowa

ULFA head says all energies are focused on making peace happen in Assam this time

Arabinda Rajkhowa. Image Credit: Tehelka

In the din of the assembly election, a significant event has got lost. The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), a banned outfit, held its 32nd Raising Day in the open in Assam. On the sidelines of the event, ULFA Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, who is in talks with New Delhi, spoke with Tehelka. Edited excerpts of the interview:

After ULFA was raised on 7 April 1979, this is the first time the outfit is organizing its raising day event in the open in Assam, given that it is still banned. How come?

Well, we have held the Raising Day on several occasions inside Assam. We have also done it in Bhutan and Bangladesh and where ever we had public support. It is a great moment today that we were able to organize the event with so many people. This has been possible because we have started the peace process and, right now, plenty of old memories are flashing in my mind.

The next round of peace talks will begin after the Assam election. You are preparing your charter of demands. How do you see the prospects?

Had we not been hopeful and confident, we would have never taken a step further for peace talks. The government of India has assured us that it is very serious about arriving at an honorable and acceptable solution to the Assam conflict. We have fought for three decades. Now, the government of India has to keep its words. We have taken the initiative and we stand by our commitment. ULFA stands committed to the talks. It is a collective decision.

The ULFA is a divided between the anti- and pro-talks factions led by Paresh Baruah and you respectively How does it help the peace process?

There are no factions in ULFA. The ULFA’s decision to hold peace talks is a collective decision of the organization taken by the Central Executive Council and the General Council and not by individual, whether Arabinda Rajkhowa or Paresh Baruah. The media is also to be blamed for wrongly portraying this. Baruah is still our Commander-in-Chief and he has never directly opposed the peace process.

Does the blast in the Congress office not indicate that Baruah’s men are opposing peace moves?

Again, I say that the peace process is a collective decision and ULFA is committed to it. The resolution has been passed according to the constitution of ULFA. Beyond it, if anyone is getting involved in anything, that should not be seen as an ULFA decision because it does not have the approval of an organization. Our organization does not intend to hurt peace talks when the political process of arriving to a solution has just started. I am also concerned because any act that does not have support from the organization can have an obvious impact on the peace process.

After all these years, you say you have understood that armed movement is not a solution and that the ULFA is looking forward to a political solution of the Assam conflict. So, do you regret 30 years of bloodshed?

When I say that we are looking forward to a political solution, this is not my personal opinion, it is the opinion of the organization. The ULFA has been contemplating this for a long time. In the past too, we thought of a peace initiative and negotiations. So, it is not a new thought. There was enough reason to take up arms so we don’t regret it. It was justified at that point of time. I do agree that we have committed mistakes in the armed movement and, at times, weapons have been misused.

Is an armed movement a future option if you think New Delhi has not delivered?

Ideally, we should not get back to armed movement. But, only time will tell. If the government of India does not deliver on its assurance, we will go back to the people of Assam and ask them to lead us. We fought for 30 years for the rights of the people of Assam and their wish is supreme.

Has anything changed from the time the movement started?

Political dynamics and social arrangements change with time and it has been three long decades. The conflict still remains and thus we are vocal. We see our resources still being exploited and our people neglected and alienated. This needs to stop.

How important are ULFA General Secretary Anup Chetia and Paresh Baruah for taking the peace initiative further?

They hold key positions in ULFA and are important. We have said earlier that a situation must be created for the extradition of Anup Chetia. This can further the talks. To the best of my knowledge, Baruah has not said he is against the peace talks. We welcome him but only he can explain how he can contribute. We have tried to explain our views clearly to him.

*The interview is taken by Ratnadip Choudhury and is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka

*He can be reached at ratnadip@tehelka.com

(Courtesy: Tehelka)

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