28th Battalion of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), considered the most dreaded of all battalions of the outfit had risen to its peak of popularity amongst the common people of Assam during the days when Tapan Baruah(original name Madan Das) was its first Commander. When the very handsome Tapan Baruah, one of ULFA’s posters-boys, and one of the trainees of the third batch of ULFA cadres who underwent arms training in the late eighties took charge in 1998, the battalion soon took a new shape of a true rebel group.
Born on 16 February 1972, Madan Das joined the ULFA in 1988 after passing 10+2 from Nalbari College. He studied his high school in the prestigious school in Nalbari district, Debiram Pathsala High School. He was a 1986 HSLC pass out of Debiram Pathsala High School. After completing his HSLC, Tapan Baruah skipped his pre-university exam and joined ULFA.
Tapan Baruah was the first batch of commando trainees of the outfit and later, from 1994 he took charge to train other cadres for commando training in Sherpur and Kachin. During his commandership, there was a strong flow of thousands of Assamese youth to the outfit’s battalion. From the districts of Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sadiya, Golaghat, Jorhat, and Dhemaji and the battalion soon formed its A (Alpha), B (Bravo), and C (Charlie) companies, much to the distress of the Government authorities.
There was the only way to stop the battalion from its growing stronghold was to hunt down its able leader Tapan. The master plan of his demise was soon drafted by the then SP and currently DIG of Assam, Dr. Sharat Phukan and as pawns, he decided to use two cadres of ULFA, namely Chandan Haloi and Paresh Haloi, who were close aides of Tapan Baruah since their joining days in the outfit.
Paresh Haloi, a neighbor of Tapan Baruah (from the village of Balikuchi, Nalbari) was given the authority of making Tapan Baruah’s official communications, a right given by Baruah himself as a close trusted comrade. The SP did wait for the right moment and finally, on 17th May 2002, the spies around Paresh Haloi brought him the much-needed lead.
On the evening of that day, Paresh Haloi was about to travel to Tinsukia from Balikuchi to meet Tapan Baruah. He was also carrying a letter from Tapan Baruah’s fiancee, who had not met him for a couple of years and was in touch only by exchanging letters. Haloi went to a known tea stall of Paikarkuchi chowk (Nalbari district), kept his cycle, and told the shop owner that he is going somewhere for a few days. The police spy following him immediately passed on the information. That night, Haloi was arrested from the bus at Khanapara (Guwahati) in which he was traveling to Tinsukia, and was taken away by the Police and the Army for the execution of their future plan.
The next morning on Friday 18, 2002, Tapan Baruah was having lunch at Talpothar-Majhgaon at the residence of Rewati Dhadumia, whom he accepted as the sister by responsibility. At around 11:00 AM, suddenly Paresh Haloi came inside the kitchen where the family along with Tapan Baruah was having lunch and said ‘Moi Ahilo’ (I come).
With his strong guerrilla psyche, Tapan Baruah understood that something was wrong. He punched Paresh Haloi for his traitor-ship and immediately started running away towards his arms and ammunition bucket kept secretly, but he was unfortunate that his arms and ammunitions were removed earlier as well as his security personnel also disappeared, only to find to his shock hundreds of Army and Policemen surrounding the house and sealing the area. He broke the army barrier and kept running amidst bullets and gunfire for about 1.5Km, till he got shot in his hands and thighs and fell into a ditch near a school. As he fell, some of the school children and the local villages who knew and looked up to him shouted and appealed to him to run so that he can survive. However, Baruah knew that his end was near but decided not to give up, he did shoot himself with his lone fire weapon i.e. 9mm pistol and died on spot. The later army reached near to his body and did shoot loads of bullets at his dead body and pulled it away.
The death of 28th Battalion’s most able commander created a huge zero for the outfit, to the extent that C-in-C Paresh Baruah gave a telephonic press release next that this was a major setback to the outfit, something which the C-in-C had never done even at the deaths of senior-most leaders over the years. It carried a series of conspiracies within the other leaders of the battalion for power.
Paresh Baruah appointed his choice of leadership to the 28th Battalion and there started whispers inside the outfit if the killing of Tapan Baruah was also a part of a conspiracy by Paresh Baruah himself to have his own set of people at the top so that his personal aspirations could be fulfilled. Soon, huge groups of cadres, who were earlier close aides of Tapan Baruah, either left the organization or got killed by continuous conspiracies.
The most dreaded battalion came down to a little hundred from more than being thousand strong earlier. The security agencies could take good advantage of this conflict within the battalion and made the most use of it by destroying camps, capturing and killing various cadres and leaders. Serious ideological differences arose between the leaders of this battalion and Paresh Baruah and finally, the battalion ended its armed existence by declaring a cease-fire with the Government of India, giving up the demand for Sovereignty of Assam.
The fact that Paresh Baruah was involved in the conspiracy of killing Tapan Baruah was echoed by several leaders of the outfit. However, Paresh Baruah has in recent times shown a keen interest in reviving the outfit and has given the charge of a newly formed 28th Battalion to Bijay Chinese alias Bijay Das who is also from Nalbari District.
Bijay Das was the security personnel of Tapan Baruah in 1988-89 when Baruah was the deputy commander of Nalbari district those days after his very first Guerilla training at Kachin, with Raju Baruah and Tapan Haloi being district commanders in turns till 1991. According to one former ULFA cadre who took training with Tapan Baruah at Kachin,- “Tapan Baruah was one of the security personnel of no other than C-in-C Paresh Baruah himself and had accompanied the ULFA supreme in their first batch of training in China.”
Bijay Das, on the other hand, has risen from a grass root level cadre of the outfit to be a Commander of the new 28th Battalion and is known as a skilled and hardcore guerrilla fighter. He is famous in the organization for his ability to jump swiftly from tree to tree in Jungle warfare, so much so that his rapid motion was compared with Chinese Martial Arts and this led to his name as Bijoy Chinese.
Paresh Baruah is maintaining his position to continue with fighting and not joining the lateral talk process, there is a strong hope of Paresh Baruah that the new 28th Battalion might actually revive its old days of strength under the leadership of the experienced Bijay Das alias Bijoy Chinese, but it won’t be possible as history says, ‘What one can do other can’t’.