When the lateral talks between the ULFA and Union Government of India started, it looked like there was a chance of peace, reconciliation, and most importantly honorable solution to the anguish of the people of the state over decades of alleged negligence and economic exploitation by New Delhi.
But as days passed, there seemed to be a growing deadlock over bringing an end to the ULFA insurgency issue. The difference of ideology of the Arabinda Rajkhowa faction and Paresh Baruah led hardliner fraction emerged suddenly and posed as one of the biggest confusions successfully created to everyone,- except ULFA leadership itself.
An extensive investigation and analysis have thrown light that the difference of opinion between the top-notch leaders of ULFA over issues of lateral talks with the Government of India, Sovereignty of Assam, and other issues is just a cooked up story, a well thought about and a strategic long-term internal plan of the outfit.
Why the story needed to be cooked
When all top leaders of the ULFA, including Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, were arrested in Bangladesh and handed over to India, the outfit’s existence and future itself became grim. It became a necessity for the jailed leaders to get released and as such the idea of the peace-talks, now termed lateral talks came into place. With the support of over 100 eminent organizations of the state, the Sanmilita Jatiyo Abhibartan (SJA) proposed to the Government of India to initiate talks with the ULFA and to release the jailed leaders. Public demand for their release grew high and soaring, a factor that becomes decisive for the coming Assembly elections in Assam.
However, to get release legally and to initiate talks with the Government, the jailed leaders of the ULFA had no choice but to abandon their prime demand of Sovereignty of Assam. New Delhi had an upper hand in the situation as they were not bound to initiate talks with jailed insurgents demanding secession from the Indian rule.
Understandably, the jailed ULFA leaders cried peace, and respect for people’s demand got released amidst such glorious welcomes by the people that would put Indian cricketers, returning home after a world cup, to shame. Most importantly when they started talking with the Government of India, they replaced their demand for Sovereignty with other demands such as economic autonomy, more political powers, etc, – things for which a three-decade of bloodshed was not required.
But they needed two things badly. One was a backup plan to revive their rebellion, in case their lateral talks fail. The other was to bring back somehow the agenda of Sovereignty, first into public discussion and then possibly into the platter of lateral talks.
The drama being enacted – How everyone sees it
Right from the days when the SJA was initiated, Paresh Baruah started opposing any talks without the agenda of Sovereignty. He was at liberty to do so, unlike his jailed comrades who would have been held forever inside prison walls if they had not compromised with Sovereignty. Paresh Baruah happily engaged himself in verbal duels with the SJA, mostly with Dr. Hiren Gohain, the pioneer of the lateral talks between the outfit and the GoI. As probably planned, Paresh Baruah was sidelined with increasing public demand for the peace talks, and the other jailed leaders were released to facilitate people’s demand (more correctly to de-risk the fear of defeat in the 2011 elections).
Over the recent months, the people of Assam hoping for a peaceful solution to decade long insurgency started witnessing helplessly how the United Liberation Front of Asom(ULFA) no longer remained united. Ideological differences between the Arabinda Rajkhowa led faction, who came out open in the name of lateral talks and the Paresh Baruah faction who had to stay behind in the hideouts arose high and handsome. The state Government loved it; – it was once again 1991-92 like a situation when the then chief Minister Hiteshwar Saikia succeeded in creating the first factional rift within the outfit. Just as the creation of SULFA helped the State to destroy ULFA to a great extent, the factional rift between the Pro-talk faction and Anti-talk hardliner of the outfit helped a great deal too.
The media loved it and filled up headlines with juicy stories portraying how much difference there is between Paresh Baruah’s hardliner faction and the ones taking peace with the Government. Some even went steps further to add their own spices to the differences.
To prove things further, Arunodoy Dohotiya of the hardliner faction criticized their own Chairman, alleged the 709 Battalion Commander Heera Saraniya to have taken action his own cadres. Within the hardliner faction, middle-level leaders were promoted to senior positions, i.e. once junior cadres who stayed back became senior in rank than their earlier seniors who came out in the open in the name of lateral talks.
The purpose for the outfit was done – everyone, including their own grass-roots cadres, was convinced that Paresh Baruah and Rajkhowa faction have distanced itself.
The set behind the drama – as Times of Assam sees it
With almost the majority of the members including all top brass of the political wing of ULFA engaged in talks, they needed back up plan in case their talks fail or just drags on the way it has been for outfits like NSCN in Nagaland. Paresh Baruah has already made his stand clear with his videos of himself and few armed cadres that he is still at large and capable of re-starting the entire armed struggle as analyzed in Times of Assam exclusive report Paresh Baruah changed the game of GoI.
On the other hand, the outfit needed a way to bring back the issue of sovereignty somehow after the Rajkhowa faction being vocal against it during their release days from prison. In a few days, the plan has been successful to some extent. Paresh Baruah has expressed clearly his intentions to carry on with the armed struggle, while Rajkhowa and his political brass have made it clear now that they still believe in the Sovereignty of Assam but it is just that their way is different by following political dialogue. For Rajkhowa and his loyal Pro-talk group, it’s almost a paradigm shift from their earlier stand which showed as if they no longer vouch for Assamese Independence.
There are several traits and links found which clearly leads us to believe that the entire episode of factional dispute and creation of two groups between the ULFA is just a gimmick.
How is the drama being enacted and who are the actors?
It is being understood that the press releases from Arabinda Rajkhowa faction, sent by Kamal Kachari as well as those from Arunodoy Dohotiya of the Paresh Baruah faction are all part of the same plan. Sources have revealed to Times of Assam that Commander of 709 Battalion of ULFA, Heera Saraniya is the main person behind the entire framework along with the other leaders of the outfit. Heera Saraniya, who is now over-ground and drumming up public support in the name of the peace talks, is also acting as the main communication channel between the Pro-talk faction and Paresh Baruah faction.
It is to be mentioned that in recent days, both factions were found to have sent counter-press releases within a very short time; there was a counter reply from one faction to the other which came in just about half an hour. Without being pre-planned, such a lengthy press release could not have been prepared at such short notice with the discussion held within the leadership. It is clear, – there is much more going on than what is being celebrated by media with spicy stories.
The history and secrets of the Publicity Chief
Times of Assam have also been able to trace the history of the mysterious publicity chiefs of the outfit, including that of the current publicity head of the hardliner faction of ULFA, Arunodoy Dohotiya.
After the death of a very popular Swadhinata Phukan alias Kabiranjan Saikia, ULFA had a mysterious Publicity Wing member named Rubi Bhuyan. Nobody knew who Rubi Bhuyan was and Mithinga Daimary was passive at that time. Rubi Bhuyan was actually Suman Baruah, an postgraduate and known as self-claimed “Next to CM“. During his time, he succeeded in reviving the outfit’s bi-monthly newsletter Freedom(English & Assamese version), which he started distributing in PDF format through email. Later, due to a clash with Paresh Baruah who intended to punish him over alleged organizational issues, Suman Baruah secretly left Bangladesh and came overground. After that, Paresh Baruah gave the publicity charge to Deputy C-in-C Raju Baruah, who was also ranked as the Military Spokesman. But due to certain reasons, Raju Baruah stopped that duty and Paresh Baruah gave the charge to Lt Anjan Barthakur. But as Anjan Barthakur was the prime accused of Sanjay Ghosh killing, there was public replication and the outfit had to think the other way.
It was then that Captain Antu Chaodang alias Upen Burhagohain, one of last 4 closest of ULFA Colonel Paresh Baruah, came up with the name of Lt Anu Buragohain for Lt Anjan Borthakur. Using this alias, all publicity and communication tasks were being taken over by Lt. Anjan Borthakur and also by ULFA cadre Arpan Saikia till the duo left Bangladesh to join the Pro-talk group in Assam.
Post the movement of Arpan Saikia and Anjan Borthakur; a new alias name of Arunodoy Dohotiya was created for publicity works of the outfit. This alias of Arunodoy Dohotiya for making public communication was used by Rubel alias Pradip Chetia initially along with Antu Chaodang himself. However during December last year, both Rubel alias Pradip Chetia and Antu Chaodang alias Upen Burhagohain were arrested by Bangladesh. At the same time, another close associate of Paresh Baruah, Ranju Chaharia alias Pranjit Saikia who hails from Darrang district of Assam was also nabbed from Dhaka along with Paresh Baruah’s elder son Ankur Khan Sunlee, also known by pet name Babu. Ankur was released later, but Ranju Chaharia along with Rubel and Antu Chaodang was handed over to India by Bangladesh authorities. Subsequently, it is known that Paresh Baruah’s close aid Ramya Mech alias Bijit Gogoi took charge in the name of Arunodoy Dohotiya along with Dr. Mridupaban Dohotiya alias Dr. Pranmoy Asom, an educated and practicing doctor in China. However later, due to immature handling of the post by the duo, the task was taken away from them and another member of the outfit took over the name and task of Arunodoy Dohotiya. It is also claimed that even now the same laptop is being used for the purpose of sending email press releases in the form of pdf attachments.
The self-created drama by ULFA about their own factional dispute is eminent from their latest appointments as well. For example, although they have expressed strongly against each other, none of the factions have banned the other or claimed their own faction to the real outfit. In fact, Paresh Baruah anti-talk group appointed one Dr. Pranmoy Asom their new Assistant Foreign Secretary but not as a Foreign Secretary, respecting and recognizing Shashadhar Choudhury who holds this post. Sources to Times of Assam have revealed that this Dr. Pranmoy Asom is one MBBS student in China who hails from Dibrugarh, Assam. It is also been claimed that this Dr. Pranmoy Asom person is also the current user of the alias Arunodoy Dohotiya and has been appointed with this duty because his communication and writing skills were found to be good enough. In fact, he has been found to stick to the point and communicate better than the previous user of the alias who was criticized for using inappropriate words several times, including criticism of eminent intellectual of the Assam Dr. Hiren Gohain. Mentionable that the above information is only exclusive to Times of Assam and even Indian Intelligence sources do not have much clue about this so far, sources claim.
It has however been known that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is partially aware of the truth behind the drama of the ULFA factional dispute. However they are yet silent on the issue as they do not hold Paresh Baruah, with just 150-200 cadres left, a big threat anymore to launch strong anti-insurgency measures at huge defense expenses; especially now that Bangladesh and Myanmar have become now better and loyal neighbors.
One concerning part of the entire drama of ULFA is that they have slowly but successfully been able to come to a lot closer to the public, both as an outfit as well as with the notion of Independent Assam, once again. It has been known that the current year has seen ULFA been able to do one of the largest recruitments of youth in several years, which proves that some youth of Assam still continues to hold the outfit with the Robin-hood status, eluded by the romanticism of revolution and change. If this continues, Assam will never be in peace and newer bloodshed would follow.
Most importantly, with this drama, the outfit is slowly but steadily destroying the lateral talks or peace process once again. Back in 1991, ULFA had ended talks with the Government of India after the outfit’s General Secretary Anup Chetia secretly abandoned the process and went hiding even after Arabinda Rajkhowa had made some progress in talks with then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. In later days when Devidas Thakur was the Governor of Assam, Late Parag Kumar Das made herculean efforts to have the talks between New Delhi and ULFA on the issue of Independent Assam. However, the Governor who was all for a political solution through talks was suddenly transferred and Parag Kumar Das was later arrested several times by the state, paying for trying to peace and solution to Assam. The same process continued with several noted public figures of Assam trying to negotiate and bring the outfit to the table, including eminent Gyanpith Award winner writer Indira Goswami (Mamani Roysom Goswami). Back in 2005, the outfit formed a People’s Consultive Group (PCG) consisting of eminent intellectuals and public figures of Assam to begin talks with the Government of India on behalf of the outfit. However this yielded no result and finally last year, the outfit labeled them unconstitutional, continuing the process of use-and-throw people at their own. The current round of talks has been possible due to the magnanimous efforts of Dr. Hiren Gohain and other intellectuals of the state. If this too fails because of the unscrupulous diplomacy of the outfit, no one would ever come forward to help the outfit with a negotiation or lateral talks ever.