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Barua Runs Out Of Time, People Losing Patience

ALL too predictably, militants have struck again in Assam. The bomb blast at Congress headquarters in Guwahati on, ironically, the Ides of March by ULFA’s anti-talk ULFA faction led by self-styled commander-in-chief Paresh Barua was a clear message that he is not on the run and that his outfit is still a potent force to reckon with. Mercifully, no one was killed but four were wounded when the bomb, suspected to have been planted, exploded.

The Congress is Barua’s prime target now because he holds it responsible for “splitting” the outfit. His supporters had threatened to disrupt next month’s Assam assembly so it is now up to Dispur to assert its authority and demonstrate its will to thwart any attempt to subvert the democratic process.

Since Barua has admitted that the 2004 Independence Day bomb blast that killed 13, mostly women and children, was a mistake – he even publicly apologized for this — his cadres are not likely to indulge in similar carnage any more. Now isolated but with a strong survival instinct and determined not to join the peace process unless the Centre agrees to include the “sovereignty” clause, Barua continues to be Pakistan’s ISI puppet and is, therefore, a security threat.

There may be temporary reprieve from violence till the next attack, but Barua cannot be trusted because it was under his instructions that his cadres started targeting Hindi-speaking people. There is the possibility of his adopting these tactics to embarrass Tarun Gogoi’s Congress government.

It is possible to argue that Barua’s cadres could not have turned violent if pro-talk ULFA leaders had waited for negotiations until after the assembly elections. Clearly, the 10 February talks between the Centre and ULFA were of a preliminary nature but everyone knows the ruling Congress rushed into the exercise with an eye on the elections, the outcome of which is difficult to predict. So, what if a non-Congress government comes to power?

Differences do exist between Barua and pro-talk leaders but neither can discredit the other. Both have sympathizers. There is still some hope of a genuine reconciliation. Even Central leaders have expressed the hope that Barua will join the peace process. In any case, the Centre cannot sign any agreement with an organization it has officially banned and until a formal ceasefire with the ULFA is declared. The decision to resume talks only after the elections seems very much like an attempt to allow pro-talk leaders more time to double their efforts to reach to Barua and persuade him to return home. If he relents and returns, well and good. If not, one may assume he loves his wealth — he is reported to be a crorepati — and his living by the gun and the sovereignty demand is merely a ploy to remain in the limelight. How long he continues to ignore the people’s yearning for peace will be at his own peril.

On 15 March, Dispur was again caught on the hop when, in an ambush by the anti-talk faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, eight Bodo Security Force personnel were killed along the India-Bhutan border. Despite several such cases in the past, Dispur has underplayed the seriousness of the situation and continues to remain none the wiser simply because the Bodo region is under the Bodo People’s Front, a Congress ally. In the absence of any talks being initiated with the anti-talk NDFB, they do not know where they really stand and so they announce their presence by ambushing security forces and killing civilians here and there. Dispur is yet to act decisively, not only in the Bodo region but also in the North Cachar Hills where militants are reportedly active again.

It looks like Dispur is waiting for the formation of the National Security Guard, which the Centre promised in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks, to curb militant activities!

*The article is written by JB Lama, ‘Endangered Eden’

(Courtesy: The Statesman, India)

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