ULFA’S elusive self-styled ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Barua now seizes every opportunity that comes his way to stay in the public eye and also make his outfit’s presence felt. On 28 March, the day Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to arrive in Guwahati for an election campaign, Barua loyalists called a 12-hour statewide bandh — and when the scheduled was postponed to 2 April, they followed suit.
The bandh was reportedly complete in the Brahmaputra Valley and partial in the Barak Valley. However, air and train services were normal. If shops and establishments were shut, it was not because their owners did so willingly and in response to the call, but for fear that had they been defiant and ventured out, they would be targets. That the Prime Minister was able to address two largely attended rallies, despite the bandh, speaks volumes for his audiences having minds of their own. In any case, halfway through the bandh the roads would have presented a deserted look because people stayed indoors to watch the World Cup cricket final. And when India became world champion, thousands took to the streets to celebrate the victory and were proud to be Indians — much, perhaps, to Barua’s chagrin!
In what may be described as an impertinent comment, an e-mail statement sent to the media by ULFA publicity-in-charge Arunodo Dohitiya lashed out at Manmohan Singh for being a “liar”, arguing that, though he was from Punjab, he had, by virtue of owning a rented flat in Guwahati, made his way to the Rajya Sabha from Assam. It blamed the late Hiteswar Saikia, former chief minister, of orchestrating this.
What’s more, the statement lamented Manmohan Singh becoming Prime Minister instead of Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Accusing the Congress of not only dividing the indigenous communities of Assam but also of “turning the state into a grazing ground of foreigners”, the statement said ULFA’s armed struggle would continue until the indigenous people’s birthright was restored. It also held the Prime Minister responsible for dividing the ULFA.
By ignoring the warning by the pro-talk group headed by ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa to desist from calling bandhs without consulting him and members of the central committee, Barua has merely confirmed the split in the outfit. Unofficially, ULFA insurgency ceased on the day Dhaka handed Rajkhowa and other leaders over to the Indian authorities. Officially, the hostility should end only when a ceasefire is declared.
If Barua is unequivocally committed to sovereignty and “swadhin Asom”, why is he hiding from the public? History is not likely to wait for a faceless leader. At the end of the day, the will of the people will prevail and Barua is well aware that an overwhelming majority awaits the early restoration of lasting peace. In this respect, the pro-talk faction has the unqualified support of public opinion.
Barua cannot continue to play truant. However, having worked together for more than three decades it would seem the gulf between Rajkhowa and Barua is something that is not unbridgeable. No one can say for certain yet that Barua has already been isolated from the masses. He does have a good number of loyalists and all he wants is the inclusion of the “sovereign” issue in the talks agenda.
In the past, the insistence by both sides on preconditions only stymied the peace process. But for the past so many years that the Centre has been engaged in talks with the NSCN(IM), whose demands also include sovereignty, it is only appropriate that New Delhi apply the same principle in Barua’s case as well. It must find a new approach to reach him if what it wants is lasting peace. As for the revolutionary in the wild, nothing could be more appropriate than General de Gaulle’s words, “Let us walk together on the same road, at the same pace, singing the same song! Let us look forward to the future with the eyes of a great united people.”
*The article is written by JB Lama, Endangered Eden
(Courtesy: The Statesman, India)
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