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WHO WILL TAKE THE EFFORT TOWARDS BUILDING A BETTER ASSAM?

By Shradha Bora

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It is no news that the state of Assam has been under the grip of insurgency for more than three decades. Assam located in the strategic northeastern corner of India, is a part of a region which shares highly porous and sensitive frontiers with China in the North, Myanmar in the East, Bangladesh in the Southwest and Bhutan to the Northwest. Insurgency began in Assam with the birth of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) in 1979. On 7th April 1979, six radical Assamese youth met at the Rang Ghar, the famous amphitheater of the Ahom’s royalty (who ruled Assam for about 600 years since 1228 AD) and formed the ULFA, vowing to fight against the colonial Indian government with the ultimate aim to achieve a sovereign-socialist Assamese nation. At the meeting, the congregation of youth agreed that the Indian state has been exploiting Assam’s rich tea, oil and other forest resources without benefiting the people of Assam – the Assamese natives. This was the starting point of insurgency with ULFA taking the foremost lead, or to say, the insurgency movement in Assam. For those who want to argue that the formative years of ULFA were not militant in nature, could not be wrong, but today, it would be debatable from every perspective to defend this outlawed outfit, when years of Assam was spent in civilian unrest instead of being on a progressive path, due to ULFA’s activities.

 

Despite peaks of insurgency, the state of Assam has witnessed the regime of various democratically elected parties. After the rule of Congress for several years, Assamese people started acknowledging the need of a proactive government, thereby electing Bharatiya Janata Party into power, which was brimming with potential to create a new India. Sarbananda Sonowal represented the first BJP-led government in 2016 as Assam’s chief minister, followed by Himanta Biswa Sarma in 2021. Under the leadership of Himanta Biswa Sarma, as being aware of the history of insurgency in Assam, and the unemployed youth being the easiest targets for ULFA’s recruitment – he has taken commendable steps to put an end to the matter like his earlier predecessors.

 

According to the 2014 report by the National Statistics Commission, Assam ranked second in both urban and rural unemployed youth. It also stated that the prolonged insurgency was the possible reason that has created around 2.5 million unemployed Assamese youth who face bleak prospects for the future. The statistics made the government realize the dire consequences if the right steps are not taken to address immediately. It was the responsibility of the government to act on it swiftly, when it was clear that the youth were joining ULFA due to lack of opportunities for livelihood, and Assam would never prosper if the situation was not handled in time. The government, realizing the adverse effect of this vicious cycle has initiated the process to provide 1 lakh jobs to the unemployed youth of the state in the government sector. The announcement of the 1 lakh formal jobs is just the first steps of many beginnings. It is an effort to provide employment to around 10 lakh unemployed youth. The launch of various skill and professional training are also being embedded in the programme to create an effective work force. It was also promised by the chief minister, Himanta Biswas Sarma that all announcements centered on the youth’s progress will reflect positive outcomes in the next 5 years.

 

On the other hand, several chief commanders of ULFA, past and present, had been critical of the situation implying that no such developments are ideally met on the ground, even after luxurious schemes over schemes of government come into effect in support of the natives and the youth. For they argue that the fight for sovereignty remains alive and in-rage amongst the youth because of the hollow outcomes of the government initiatives.

 

The debate could never end on this matter, but what is worth discussing about would be who will take the leap of faith and initiate the step toward building a better Assam. Some ground research reports indicate that youth join ULFA as a way to attain financial security and minimal source of income. However, it is not the case that these youth get paid to join the outlaw insurgent group, it is a ploy to push the educated or minority youth to see benefits otherwise. In the end, they meet with hard fate to survive a life of constant threat and uncertainty. Their recruitment to join the outfit is only a way to manipulate and engage them to join forces in act of contempt to current unemployment status. Now, with the several announcements of progressive schemes, should the Assamese youth  remain in contempt?

 

If ULFA was the root cause of unemployment, then the current chief of commanders of ULFA (I), Paresh Barua has the chance to change this perspective. He can prove the statement wrong by participating in the peace-talk. He could direct the youth to believe in the government’s effort to provide them formal jobs and other professional skill-training for their better future. If the government remained a passive witness unable to deliver in the past, then there should be a way to rectify it. This new hope is not only a position for Barua to amend the ULFA ways, but also for the Sarma-led government to deliver on its promise.

 

In words of the chief minister, he envisioned that Assam must aspire to compete with states like Gujarat and Punjab in economic growth driven by youth-led industries and business ventures. And, since the Assamese people have always been resilient against outside aggressors, then the time has come to prove that again by taking control of the state’s resources and farming lands. Sarma insisted that the spirit must be to prove with hard work, instead of claiming the rights with the help of guns. Indeed, visibly the government of Assam has put forward remarkable solutions to put an end to unemployment in the state by curbing youth’s need to join fundamentalist groups like the ULFA (I). Keeping different current factors in mind, as well as the underdevelopment scenarios, it is important that the visualized changes in policy are incorporated at the earliest. This shall not only bring the warring factions of the ULFA (I) on the peace table, but will also set the stage for other outfits to follow suit. The peace potential in the region will get a tremendous boost, and new economic ventures would have substantial impact on the lifestyle of the local populace including those living in border areas. What is left to see is if the ULFA (I) led chief is able to come to terms and pave a way for Assam and its youth to define their potential growth, or will remain as a bottleneck to every effort made by the government.

 

Thus, in terms of ensuring the insurgency to end, the affirmative actions of the current state government under the leadership of Himanta Biswa Sarma can be considered as a great outcome regarding the issue.  It offers a ray of hope to ensure long lasting peace and a flourishing economy in the region. The youths who have been very vocal about their employment and work culture can also be seen supporting the chief minister’s initiatives. If ULFA (I) led by Paresh Barua do not see the change to come and support it for sake of the Assamese youth’s future, then he will be judged on the basis of how he has destroyed the hopes and the chance to grow for the youth of Assam, along with all the lives he has taken and is adamant to take on more. It is time Barua must realize, the way he hankers about free Assam portrayal lacks conviction, which most likely plays to his personal intent to manipulate youth to a disastrous path. What is left to see is who will end the blame-game and define their own directive to meet the objective of progressive Assam, and the nascent hope of educated youth will reap a bright future.

 

Shradha Bora is a student at Dispur Law College, Guwahati. Views presented in this article are personal and not part of any organization endorsement. Please refrain from quote unless prior permission consented.

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