ULFA: The Way Ahead

ULFA Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa.

That the ULFA chairman has realized certain things, is a welcome development. But the government must make its point very clear.

The New Year’s Day was very special for the United Liberation Front of Asom‘s (ULFA’s) political boss, Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, as he walked free from the Guwahati Central Jail where he had been lodged for over a year since he was handed over to the Assam Police by Bangladesh in December 2009. A designated TADA court gave him bail after the State government did not oppose his bail plea.

As he stepped out of the jail around 8.15 am, cries of ‘Arabinda Rajkhowa zindabad’ and ‘ULFA zindabad’ greeted him. He was welcomed by his family and ULFA sympathizers. ‘There are no differences within ULFA over the peace process. We are ready to hold talks without any preconditions. But the government has to free all jailed leaders, including Chitraban Hazarika and Sasadhar Choudhury,’ Rajkhowa told the media outside the jail. Hazarika and Choudhury are the outfit’s finance and foreign secretaries. The ULFA chairman also pressed for the participation of the outfit’s general secretary, Anup Chetia.  ‘Chetia is currently in the custody of Bangladesh. As he has a major role to play in the peace process, I ask the authorities concerned to bring him back to India from Bangladesh as soon as possible,’ Rajkhowa said.

That there is no use being obdurate on the outfit’s ‘core’ demand, ‘sovereignty for Assam’ outside the ambit of the Indian Constitution, and that it is high time unconditional talks were started with the government for the sake of peace and development in the State, is the first Rajkhowa realization, which is a welcome augury.

On his way to his native village in the Lakuwa area of Sibsagar district, he addressed a gathering of about 1,000 people at Sipajhar in Darrang district. Amid the flutter of ULFA flags ‘” after many a year and without there being any State authorities to stop that despite the outfit being still a banned terrorist organization ‘” and sloganeering in favor of Rajkhowa and his outfit, the ULFA chairman assured the people of a peaceful solution to the conflict according to the wishes of the State’s people.

That the wishes of the people are paramount in a democracy and that they cannot be trampled over for the sake of a non-state existence dressed up as people’s revolution or liberation movement, without the people ever mandating the militant leadership to prefer gun to democratic movement, is the second Rajkhowa realization. It is a positive development.

The ULFA chairman also admitted that the outfit could not proceed towards its goal during the ‘last 30 years of struggle’. At the same time, he reminded the gathering, the Centre could not defeat the outfit even though armed forces had been deployed in large numbers to combat the group. ‘In the last 30 years, we could not move forward even for a short distance towards our aim. At the same time, the Centre has not been able to root out ULFA even despite armed operations against us,’ Rajkhowa said.

One was expecting the ULFA chairman to exhibit more candor and tell the truth as it was: that the outfit could not achieve anything when it came to moving towards its cherished goal of ‘sovereignty’ because the agenda was destined to fail, given the might of the Indian nation-state. Yet, that the last three decades of armed conflict with the government have been futile and that not even ‘a short distance’ could be covered, is the third Rajkhowa realization, which has an importance of its own. There is a hidden message there: that such armed movements are destined to fail, despite the initial waves of sympathy from the masses’”though it is another matter that the likes of Arabinda Rajkhowa, pressured by their ego, would not admit such realities.

On January 2, after arriving in his home district, Rajkhowa made it clear that he was on a mission for a ‘dignified political solution’ of the issues raised by his outfit. ‘We have given up the armed struggle for a permanent and dignified solution to the problem. If we fail to get a dignified solution, the people will decide whether we should take up arms… We will definitely try for an honorable solution to the conflict. If not, then we will again come to the people of the State and proceed on our next step as per their advice as to whether take up arms again, join politics or what else… Since the inception of ULFA, the people of Assam have suffered for long and led a miserable life either due to our arms struggle or the retaliatory anti-insurgency operations by the government. Considering the consensus among the people in the State and their miserable condition, we want to relieve them of their suffering. So we have decided to come forward for peace talks,’ he said.

That an organization that had successfully mutated from an insurgent outfit to a sheer terror front dictated by avowedly anti-India Islamist forces in Bangladesh, including the Bangladesh wing of the Pakistan Army’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has now no option’”after a long gory innings of senseless violence perpetrated on innocent people, including schoolchildren’”but to talk of heeding ‘people’s advice’, and that the people of the State have long suffered as a result of such violence and retaliatory measures by the government, is the fourth Rajkhowa realization. It is a welcome development that the ULFA wants to ‘relieve’ the people of ‘their suffering’.

Only, what is disturbing is the kind of euphoria being generated by a section of people’”perceived as ULFA sympathizers still fully wedded to the ’cause’ and ‘ideology’ of an outfit that cannot have any cause or ideology by virtue of its terroristic avatar’”so as to create an impression that there is still huge mass support for the outfit that is only swelling by the day. These are people who by trying to heroize the political head of a terrorist organization have sent out a bizarre message that they have simply forgotten the ULFA’s notorious criminality, including the killing of over a dozen schoolchildren in a bomb blast at the Independence Day function in Dhemaji town in 2004! Despite the fact that such people form a minority, the impression they are trying to create holds the potential of generating a belief that people like Rajkhowa and his associates lead terrorist organizations only to be given a hero’s welcome in the same society that they have ragged for years together! Should any civilized society allow even a small section of people in the mainstream to behave so? What stopped the government from restraining a section of people from raising pro-ULFA slogans and waving ULFA flags, in spite of the fact that the ULFA was a banned outfit? It is the duty of the government to prevent such activists from staging anti-national shows.

The bottom line is that given the realizations, very belated though, of the ULFA chairman, the government cannot fail to show sincerity in taking the nascent peace process to a meaningful conclusion while making it absolutely clear that any threat or attempt by the ULFA to go non-state in case there is dissatisfaction in the outfit’s camp will not be tolerated. The government must make it loud and clear that it is a government elected by the people who it is accountable to, while the ULFA does not have the mandate of the people ‘” a section of people given to anachronic ideas and the romanticism of an unknown but fanciful aazaadi cannot be mistaken for people’s mandate.

*The article is written by Bikash Sharma.

(Courtesy: ADNI)

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