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WHAT WILL COST ASSAM IF ULFA (I) REMAINS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PEACE PACT?

By Apurva Sharma

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Insurgencies in the state of Assam can be traced back to the 1970s, when the seeds of numerous separatist groups started to take root on the soils of Assam for various reasons mainly citing issues of injustice and oppression. Some of the most vicious outfits include the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the Adivasi National Liberation Army (AANLA), the Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF), and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). Not to mention, many of these outlawed outfits split into several groups over the years, and remained to pose a threat to Assam’s internal security.

The central government has over the years played a proactive role in putting an end to the insurgency by trying to bring all the insurgent group leaders including the ULFA commander in chief Paresh Baruah on the negotiation table – to start the process of peace and reconciliation. The most successful of the peace talks was with the NDFB (Progressive), NDFB(RD), NDFB(S) and ABSU which took place last year on January 27, 2020, in New Delhi. It ended with the signing of a Memorandum of Settlement termed as the “Bodo Agreement”, ending the fifty years old Bodo crisis and brought about 2250 erstwhile disgruntled cadres into the mainstream society. Along with it, brought more hopes in building Assam together. It was followed by Karbi militants groups KLNLF, PDCK, UPLA and KPLT numbering about 1040 insurgents to surrender – they chose to embrace life and the opportunities it holds for them. They laid down their weapons after signing the Memorandum of Settlement with the government of India on September 4, 2021, in New Delhi. The settlement brought an end to the decade-old crisis in the state of Assam related to the Karbis tribe.

The ULFA as an organization, the secessionists movement which started way back in 1979, is now at the most crucial turn of its history, as the organization as a whole has split, with the majority of its top founding leaders taking the peace talk route to find a solution to the prolonged civilian unrest in the state. However, peace talks that started in 2011 have continued without any resolve to date. The outfit’s split into two factions, the one on the side of the anti-faction of the peace-talks, now known as the UFLA (I), taken in-charge by Paresh Baruah, its commander in chief, has not shown any signs or possibility of joining the process of peace and reconciliation. It has been constantly reminded time and again that he’s unlikely to come forward for negotiations until the parleys with the pro-talks faction are completed. For whatever may be the reason for Paresh Baruah led ULFA (I) denial to trust the central government in joining the peace process, the people of Assam remain in hope that Paresh Baruah will act bigger than his interests for the sake of Assamese people, and come forward to amend ways with the central government. The Assamese people are hoping for Paresh Baruah to end the prolonged insurgency that has only sloped Assam’s road to progress and for any actual policy to meet its true potential on ground.

ULFA (I) outfit, staying adamant and active at present, will continue to pose a threat to Assam’s internal security at large. Unlike others, the ULFA (I) cadres have managed to stay active in these many years, by taking shelter in the unknown forest terrains of the neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan, from where they operate their activities and hold camps for training and hiding. There are media reports and official statements by Assam police that some of the cadres are surrendering themselves after seeing the process of peace talks holding some credentials. Some cadres are apprehended in the cat and mice chase by police, but it is certain that the ULFA (I) now operate barely in the strength of 200 cadres. Perhaps, it is only their commander in chief who holds a personal interest behind the self-motivated struggle to continue the fight at the cost of “sovereign Assam” ideology, while others are making amends owing the blood they have spilled in Assam for many years.

Now, coming to the question of what will cost Assam if Paresh Baruah chooses to remain on the other side of the peace pact. The amount of disastrous atrocities that occurred in Assam fueled by ULFA in the past, roughly from the 1980s to 2000, has never been a matter of joke. It has done more damage than good. The civilians for ages had faced the wrath of their heinous activities like bomb-blast, extortion, kidnap for ransom and murders. Certainly this cannot be categorized under the label of freedom struggle where civilians are at the receiving end of it. If the ULFA (I) commander in chief Paresh Barauh does not take the steps to initiate the peace pact, then most likely the traumatic past of Assam atrocities will continue to exist. Rumor has it that, with fewer numbers of cadres active in the outfit, civilians fear that the outfit could resonate to more dreadful activities in the future with extortions and kidnapping for ransom, to support their self-motivated fight against the government.

Assam known for the greatness of its history and diversified culture, where youth are able to dream and aspire for a prosperous future in the state is superseded with another reality that surfaces the concern of internal security issues. Do Paresh Barauh led ULFA (I) want to pose a threat to their growth? The efforts are constantly made by the state government to help the youth realize their dreams and for communities to prosper from multifaceted schemes that safeguards civilian aspiration to see Assam great again, because the people of Assam choose to walk the route that leads to progress. Now it is left to see if Paresh Barauh is in accord with the new face and voice of Assam. Will he support the youth to take the route to new Assam or he will take them down with him to the route of anti-agreement of peace pact.

Prime minister Narendra Modi has been giving most priority to fixing the internal security issues of the northeastern states, and his policy doctrine of “Insurgency Free Prosperous North East”; Modi aims to end all disputes in the Northeast by 2022, and usher in a new era of peace and development in the Northeast by 2023. For Assam, the prime minister is referring to the new face of Assam, where the youth can lead a progressive life and open doors of limitless opportunities. It is believed and argued that a safe and secure northeast would bring the region at par with the rest of the country in terms of developmental aspects. And, Assam being the gateway to the region, could also be the host to the south east corridors, where it stands to gain on the success of this process with the far east. Alongside, the Assam chief minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma had been on a constant effort with his cabinet ministers, to bring this vision into reality on the ground. On this note, the chief minister has been requesting the central government to complete the ongoing peace parleys with the pro-talks faction of ULFA as soon as possible, so that the actual development works are realized on the ground. The chief minister has also been constantly requesting Paresh Baruah led ULFA (I) to enter into the peace talks with the authorities, where he ensured that the communication channels will always remain open for them under any circumstances. Now, it is time for Paresh Baruah to take matters into consideration for the sake of Assam and its future. The prolonged insurgency had caused numerous casualties and civilian lives, and it’s time to amend ways into peace, or he will remain on the wrong side of history that will last a lifetime of regret and shame when he had the opportunity to set things right. And, for the state as well as the central government to strike a peaceful settlement with ULFA (I) at earliest possible would bring the much needed internal security in Assam, which had borne the brunt of insurgency induced violence for many decades.

Disclaimer: Apurva Sharma, the contributor of this article is a student at Dispur Law College, Assam. Views expressed in this article is a work of personal opinion and research. It is not part of any organizational endorsement.

 

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