ULFA and Peace Talk – Dual policy

By- Col (Retd) Anil Bhat

The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) becoming active again in intimidation, extortion and violence in Assam, as brought out in a number of features, as brought out by this writer in some earlier articles has been amply confirmed by the business community in the state.

On October 25, the Assam Chamber of Commerce strongly condemning recent attacks on the business community and demanded that the government ensure that the surrendered militants do not have any arms with them. Addressing media, Rupam Goswami, chairman of Assam Chamber of Commerce, said that the fact that the surrendered militants are still carrying arms with them has been creating fear and uncertainty, particularly to the business community, putting a damper on the joyous mood during the festive period of Deepawali. Adding that the deterioration in law and order in the state’s capital city has adversely affected business which otherwise is at its peak during this festival, Mr. Goswami further demanded that the post of a Police Commissioner should be instituted in Guwahati to improve the law-and-order scenario in the city.

According to this Assamese daily, recent revelation of some pro-talk ULFA cadres indulging in extortion and crimes such as murder of businessmen are not going to help their leadership much. It is believed that some pro-talk ULFA members are carrying out money-raising activities such as extortion and robbery by using third-party criminals so that the outfit does not face any direct allegations or public wrath. It is not possible that the senior leadership of the ULFA pro-talk faction as well as the Government is not aware of such secret ground-realities and only coming days would reveal who the smarter of the two is. If the ULFA leadership fails to keep a check on their own cadres, there is no way the people of Assam would accept criminals as their rulers. As explained earlier in this daily, Arabinda Rajkhowa and his pro-talks group colleagues moving freely in rural areas of Assam have been trying to revive their Robin Hood image and have motivated few hundreds of youth which Paresh Barua has been able to able to add to his faction this year.

 On November 2, Assam Police arrested four persons including one Baikuntha Deka, member, Hindi Suraksha Samity, on charges of making threatening calls to several city-based businessmen and demanding extortion in the name of ULFA leaders. Local media cited Police sources stating, although no link could be established between the group and ULFA leaders so far, we, however, are not ruling out anything at this moment. The group reportedly led by Deka, from whom four cell phones and a number of SIM cards were recovered, threatened the businessmen of dire consequences if their demands were not met. We managed to get hold of him after tracing his cell phone. Call records suggest that Deka used his cell phone to make the calls, the police source said, adding that. A senior Assam Police official said was quoted: Of late, we have received quite a few complaints of such nature where extortions were demanded over phone, mostly from businessmen. As in some of the earlier cases where involvement of militants was established, we are following that angle too, The other three, police said, have been identified as Aminul Haque, Rafikul Islam and Jaidul Isam. The trio was arrested from Kamakhya Gate area based on the statement of Deka. In two of the recent incidents of robbery and attacks on Guwahati-based businessmen, Assam Police, had unearthed involvement of hardcore cadres of ULFA and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). Police sources also stated that several small groups, both organized and unorganized, are resorting to extortion drives and police is consistently tracking their movement and added that According to our information, surrendered cadres of militant outfits are also backing some of the groups.

It should be borne in mind that the pro-talks faction of ULFA got created only because of the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government coming into power in Bangladesh and arresting all those ULFA leaders there who could not escape and handing them over to India. Had that not happened Rajkhowa and co. would have continued with their anti-India activities.

Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi took great pains to release from jail Rajkhowa and all those handed over by Bangladesh by New Year’s Day, 2011, so that they could influence voters in Assam. Thereafter began the process of build-up towards talks with the Centre at New Delhi. Throughout and to date Mr. Gogoi and the Centre have been treating them with kid gloves. Neither has it been ensured that they do not have weapons, which they are reported to have acquired despite coming empty handed from Bangladesh and then from jail, nor have they all been kept been kept in designated camps under a sharp watch.

A very interesting development in March this year was, pro-talk ULFA leader Mrinal Hazarika stating that ULFA would involve itself with business activities in Assam and naming Heera Saraniya, the commander of the outfit’s 709 battalion as the in-charge for the purpose. Claiming that the intervention was aimed at evicting mafia raj and syndicates from the existing business scenario, the pro-talks ULFA group’s intervention would facilitate involvement of local youths in coal and other lucrative businesses. This elicited many reactions from Assamese public netizens from all over the world, recalling parallels between SULFA (surrendered ULFA) in 1991, who were allowed to retain their arms and who freely used them in creating mafia syndicates in the name of starting rehabilitative business activities in Assam and the present pro-talks group. Many people also remembered the Usha Court housing complex shootout in Guwahati in March-April 1999, when ULFA attacked SULFA living with their families in this complex with guns and grenades and SULFA subsequently retaliated.

The pro-talks group including Bangladesh returned ULFA leaders and the surrendered ones coming over ground with peace talks wanting to do business is history repeating itself. Barring a few who tried to reconstruct their lives within the law, many SULFA continued with their criminal violent ways including extortion. The current pro-talk ULFA continuing their old dirty tricks as evident from some arrests, while talking to the Centre, amounts to mockery of a so called peace process. Or is it a case of  perverse politics? And either way, who suffers? The hapless public at large, who, one is led to infer, do not matter.

There was also  a recent controversy, when the Home Ministry reportedly released Rs. 40 lacs (40,00, 000/ Rs. 4 million) to pro-talks leaders, who denied receiving any money, another factor, which many believe, will strengthen Paresh Baruah’s anti-talk faction of ULFA.

According to November 3 news reports in Guwahati, a fresh source of worry for the Rajkhowa group captured and handed over to India by Bangladesh, is raids being conducted the places they used as hideouts in Dhaka by Bangladeshi security forces looking for weapons. With the possibility of ULFA members leaving their weapons and other belongings behind not being ruled out security forces of Bangladesh started carrying out raids in their hideouts. Some communications intercepted by security forces in which ULFA members expressed their anxiety about these raids, indicates that they must have left behind something which they needed to hide, sources to Guwahati media added. ULFA and other militant outfits taking shelter in Myanmar have been forced to shift their bases in that country following pressure from the authorities, even though no real-time and accurately targeted effective operations have been launched against them by Myanmar army.

Meanwhile rounds of talks in New Delhi have provided the pro-talkers opportunities of free air travel from tax-payers’ money and pontificating with media instead of jail-cells, after decades of extortion, abduction, killings, circulation of fake Indian currency for the ISI and various other anti-India sabotage operations.  Guwahati-based reports of October 27 state that Mr. Shambhu Singh, Joint Secretary (North East), Ministry of Home Affairs has asserted that Government of India will not downgrade the process of talks with ULFA for a political solution of the issues, as apprehended by certain sections and that Central government’s interlocutor PC Haldar, former Director of the Intelligence Bureau, would now continue the talks on the charter of demands submitted by the outfit. Reportedly Mr. Singh also revealed was that in addition to the charter of demands, the ULFA wanted to set up Nava Nirman Kendras and to launch various economic activities and added that while the Assam Chief Secretary will review the progress of such activities once in a month, the Union Home Secretary will review the same on quarterly basis. He also clarified that such reviews of the economic activities would have nothing to do with ULFA’s main charter of demands.

The central and state governments must ensure peace and development for Assam, but not by paving a way for criminals and anti-nationals to become political leaders of tomorrow. And for ensuring peace and development, surrendered militants should be effectively disarmed and uncaught ones like Paresh Baruah must be apprehended, so that their anti-Indian connections and activities can be exposed and severed.

Col. Anil Bhat (Retd) is the Editor, WordSword Features & Media. He is a syndicated strategic affairs columnist and Defence analyst based in New Delhi. He can be reached at wordsword02@yahoo.com

Arabinda RajkhowaArmyAssamBangladeshChief Minister Tarun GogoiHeera SaraniyaIndiaNDFBParesh BaruahSheikh HasinaSULFATarun GogoiULFAUnited Liberation Front of Asomusha court