hirty six years after insurgency began in Assam with the formation of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) in 1979, militancy continues in the State. However, the Government’s counter-insurgency offensives and peace efforts have paid dividends with most of the major insurgent groups now getting into a peace mode. But, things have been made difficult by breakaway factions of insurgent organizations that have emerged on the scene, opposing truces and peace talks between the Government and their parent outfits.
Starting with the formation of the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) in 1996, after breaking away from the Bodo Volunteer Force (BVF) in the wake of the signing of the first Bodo Accord in 1993, many breakaway factions of insurgent groups have come up. This usually followed the Suspension of Operations or Ceasefire agreements that their parent organizations had reached with the Government. The major breakaway factions include the now active ULFA Independent led by Paresh Baruah and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland - Songbijit faction (NDFB-S).
Aside from the splinter groups, several new militant outfits have been formed recently with different demands and objectives. The vacuum created by the rebel groups on ceasefire and in peace talks is also believed to have aided a new brand of insurgents to come and fill the space—the Maoists. The Communist Party of India (Maoist) is working in Assam under the name of the Upper Assam Leading Committee (UALC). When the AFSPA was extended for one year in December 2013, the Union Home Ministry for the first time cited Maoist activities in the State as one of the reasons for extending this Act. On 3 November 2014, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) was extended in Assam for another year with effect from 4 November 2014.
With the signing of Suspension of Operation agreement between the Ranjan Daimary faction of NDFB and the Central and the State Government on 12 September 2013, the number of insurgent groups in Assam talking peace with the Government rose to 13. These 13 outfits are: ULFA pro-talk faction, NDFB-Progressive led by Govinda Basumatary, NDFB-Ranjan Daimary faction, Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF), Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA), United Kukigram Defence Army (UKDA), Hmar People's Convention (D) (HPC-D), Kuki Liberation Army (KLA), Adivasi Cobra Military of Assam (ACMA), Birsa Commando Force (BCF), Santhal Tiger Force (STF), All Adivasi National Liberation Army (AANLA) and Adivasi People's Army (APA). Among these outfits, the Government has appointed interlocutor only for the dialogue with the ULFA Pro-talk faction and the two factions of NDFB.
On the other hand, according to a Assam Government report presented in the State Assembly on 16 December 2014, there are eight active militant groups in the State. These are:
- CPI -Maoists
The Report said that from January 2001 till November 2014, 6,483 ULFA militants, 2,881 NDFB, 346 KPLT, 50 KLO, 14 HuM, 106 MULTA, 80 CPI (Maoists) and 10 JMB module rebels were arrested. There are are eight radical Islamist groups, of which, only three are active: MULTA, HuM and JMB. The inactive radical groups are Harkatul-Jehad-al-Islami (HuJI), Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam (MULFA), People United Liberation Front (PULF), Islamic United Reformation Protests of India (IURPI) and Islamic Security Force of India (ISFI). The Report stated that from 1995 till November 2014, 626 members of these radical groups were arrested.
An earlier report presented by the State Government in the Assembly on 16 December 2013 stated that six new militant outfits emerged in the State during 2012 and 2013. These include: the Karbi National Liberation Army (KNLA), United Peoples Liberation Front (UPLF), Dima Halam Daogah-Action (DHD-A), Dima Jadi Naiso Army (DJNA), National Liberation Front of Bengalis (NLFB) and United Dimasa Kachari Liberation Front (UDKLF). The most violent outfit in the State is the Songbijit faction of the NDFB, which has 300 members and the Paresh Baruah faction of the ULFA that has 240 cadres. The other groups include: Karbi People's Liberation Tiger (KPLT) with 40 members, Kamatapur Liberation Organization (KLO) with around 100 members, Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA) with 40 members, and Assam Unit of the Harkat Ul Mujaheedin (HUM) with 40 members.
ULFA, the first major insurgent organization in Assam was formed way back on 7 April 1979 by six radical Assamese youths at a meeting on the precincts of the Rong Ghar, the famous amphitheatre of the Ahom royalty in eastern Assam’s Sivasagar district, with the objective to establish a “sovereign socialist Assam” through an armed struggle. The organization operated in the background of the popular Assam agitation led by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) against illegal influx from Bangladesh. The AASU-led agitation ended with the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985 and subsequently the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP)—the regional political party that was formed by the AASU leadership who were a signatory to the Assam Accord—won the elections to form the government in Assam.
The subsequent years witnessed ULFA’s influence in the State reaching new heights. The ULFA started sending its cadres for advanced ‘military training' at the hands of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), an anti-Yangon rebel group in Myanmar, from 1988 onwards. In 1985, the ULFA set up safe houses at Damai village in the Moulvi Bazaar district in Bangladesh, bordering Meghalaya. The outfit’s military prowess is believed to have increased as a result of its ties with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) which helped in securing arms and providing training to the cadres. The breakdown of governance in Assam led to the declaration of President’s Rule in the State and two army operations: Operation Bajrang (between 27 November 1990 and 10 June 1991) and Operation Rhino (between 15 September 1991 and 13 January 1992). The military offensives targeted the outfit and its facilities within Assam, forcing its leadership to seek refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh and Bhutan.
ULFA was subsequently patronised by the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan and the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) of Bangladesh. The outfit received a major blow on 15 December 2003 when a Bhutanese military operation dislodged them from their camps in Bhutan. ULFA, however, managed to survive and continued to launch periodic strikes in Assam, mostly from its facilities in the Sagaing division in Myanmar. In 2009, there were reports of the ULFA setting up a base in China’s Yunnan province, established by the group’s then military chief Paresh Baruah.
In November 2007, the movement of the 28th battalion of ULFA (the group’s most potent strike unit) was disrupted in Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland – a territory used by the ULFA to travel between Assam and Myanmar. On 11 November, the NSCN (IM) carried out an ambush on ULFA men in transit in Nagaland’s Mon district and killed two ULFA cadres keeping two others as hostages thus restricting ULFA’s movement. This was apparently the result of ULFA’s warmed up relations with the NSCN (K) – the rival group of NSCN (IM). ULFA’s earlier partner in terror, the NSCN (IM) refused any right of movement for ULFA cadres through Naga territory. However, ULFA’s route to Bangladesh through Garo Hills of Meghalaya remained undisrupted.
During the early part of 2007, ULFA formed strategic alliances with small extremist groups such as the KLNLF and the AANLA. The violent drive carried out by the KLNLF against the Hindi-speaking trading community in the Karbi Anglong district in August 2007 was supported by the ULFA and, on several occasions ULFA cadres were directly involved in the attacks. Again, ULFA’s support to AANLA, earlier a nascent outfit with about 50 cadres, actually transformed it into a violent group with access to sophisticated arms and ammunitions.
On 24 June 2008, the Alfa and Charlie companies of the ULFA's Myanmar-based 28th battalion declared unilateral ceasefire and came over-ground seeking a negotiated settlement to their three-decade-old problem. They declared that they would have no links with the ULFA and they would be called as the ‘Pro-talk ULFA’. They also gave up the demand for sovereignty or independence and said that they want to work towards achieving greater autonomy for Assam.
In Bangladesh, the crackdown against Indian militant outfits by the Awami League Government brought in great results towards the end of 2009, with arrests of top leaders of the ULFA. On 6 November 2009, ULFA's 'foreign secretary' Sashadhar Choudhury and 'finance secretary' Chitraban Hazarika were handed over to the Indian authorities. Within a month of these arrests, on 4 December 2009, ULFA 'Chairman' Arabinda Rajkhowa and 'Deputy commander-in-chief' Raju Baruah were handed over to the Indian authorities. These arrests have weakened the outfit and Paresh Baruah, ULFA’s ‘Commander-in-chief’, remained the sole top leader in the outfit.
The Union Government proposed peace talks with the ULFA on 1 February 2010. But ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa rejected the offer stating that there could be no talk while in custody. ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah, too, responded stating that there can be no question of talks without the issue of sovereignty on the agenda. The Government, however, released four prominent ULFA leaders—Raju Baruah, Pranati Deka, Bhimkanta Buragohain and Pradip Gogoi—in the same year. The Government facilitated the process of peace talks by releasing the ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa (1 January 2011) and ULFA ‘foreign secretary’ Shashadhar Choudhury (11 January 2011) deciding not to oppose their bail application.
No doubt, the ULFA’s capacities have diminished to a great extent, but the surviving elements continued to sustain a violent intent. On 30 July 2010 the ULFA triggered a landmine blast at Bhalukdubi in Goalpara district, killing five Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers and injuring 40 others. In April 2010 the rebel group launched an extortion drive under the ‘commander’ of the ULFA’s '709th battalion', Hira Sarania from Guwahati and served extortion notices across Assam. Towards the end of 2010, the ULFA hardliners under Paresh Baruah started a fresh recruitment drive to aid the outfit’s lost strength. However, the outfit failed to recruit significant numbers of youth. While in 2011, the ULFA hardliners were responsible for four bomb blasts in the State, during 2012 it was involved in 19 killings in 16 incidents of violence. The group is a part of the Northeast United Front (NUF) and carries out its activities in collaboration with outfits like the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA). It is now reported to have secured some support from China.
The impending split in the ULFA after the arrest of all the top leaders, barring Paresh Baruah, was formalized with Paresh Baruah expelling the outfit's chairman, Arabinda Rajkhowa, who was heading the pro-talks group. Paresh Baruah elevated acting chairman Abhijeet Barman ('Asom') as the new head of the outfit. Thus, on 23 November 2011, the anti-talk faction of the ULFA (ULFA Independent) announced a new 16-member ‘central committee’, with Abhijeet Barman as ‘in-charge chairman’; Paresh Baruah as ‘commander-in-chief’ and ‘vice president’; and ‘colonel’ Jiban Moran as ‘assistant general secretary’ and ‘in-charge finance secretary’. Aided by anti-national forces, the ULFA-I has been continuously trying to trigger violence in the State.
With aspirations for an independent state, the Bodos, the largest plains tribes in Assam, began the Bodoland movement on 2 March 1987 under the leadership of Upendranath Brahma of the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU). Besides the ABSU, the other organization that had led the Bodo movement was the Plains Tribal Council of Assam (PTCA). The Bodo Peoples' Action Committee (BPAC) was created to spearhead the movement with the slogan "divide Assam 50-50".
Simultaneously, a violent movement was initiated for a “sovereign Boroland” and “self-determination of the Bodos”. On 3 October 1986, an outfit named Bodo Security Force (BdSF), under the leadership of Ranjan Daimary, was formed that rechristened itself as the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) on 25 November 1994. The ABSU’s armed group, the Bodo Volunteer Force (BVF), also launched a violent movement till 20 February 1993 when the Bodo Accord was signed between the ABSU and the Government of Assam. However, instead of bringing peace to the troubled area, fierce fratricidal clashes among the Bodos followed the Accord. A section of the BVF rejected the Accord and formed the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) in 1996. The BLT engaged in several violent acts, especially in the districts of western and northern Assam, particularly the Bodo heartland of Kokrajhar. Such activities of the BLT were brought to an end with the cease-fire agreement of 29 March 2000. Negotiations between the government and the militant outfit culminated in the creation of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) in December 2003. In October 2004, the NDFB announced a unilateral ceasefire. A formal ceasefire agreement between NDFB and the Government was signed on 25 May 2005.
The State witnessed a massive ethnic cleansing in July 2008. At least 49 people were killed and more than 100,000 people fled their homes in violence between members of the Bodo tribe and Muslim migrant settlers in the northern districts of Udalguri and Darrang. In retaliation, the Muslims also attacked the Bodos. The Government blamed the NDFB as instrumental in triggering the violence. The clashes were the latest in a long-simmering conflict between the indigenous communities in Assam, both Hindus and Christians, and the Muslim immigrants. The locals targeted Muslim settlers in the past too out of fear of being overrun by them. In February 1983, over 2,100 people, mostly Bangladeshi immigrants were killed in clashes with tribesmen at Nellie, in central Assam’s Nagaon-Morigaon area.
Despite years of violence, no one had seen anything like the nine coordinated explosions that killed 100 people and wounded more than 545 in four towns – Guwahati, Barpeta, Bongaingaon and Kokrajhar on 30 October 2008 – thus raising the possibility that better-armed, better-trained militants have joined the fray. On 25 May 2009, the CBI charge sheeted 19 NDFB members, including Ranjan Daimary. The investigations that followed revealed that the anti-talk NDFB faction headed by Ranjan Daimary was involved in the blasts. After the October 30 serial blasts, the Assam Government declared a "zero tolerance" policy towards militancy in the State. The Assam Preventive Detention (Amendment) Act, 2009 was passed by the Assam Legislative Assembly on January 10, 2009. The Act raised the maximum period of preventive detention of terrorist suspects from six months to two years.
Internal differences within NDFB widened after the expulsion of its founder president, Ranjan Daimary, alias D.R. Nabla, following accusation of his involvement in the October 30 serial blasts. On 15 December 2008, the NDFB replaced Ranjan Daimary, with B. Sungthagra alias Dhiren Boro, as its new president at a meeting held in Kokrajhar. A few days later, Daimary was expelled from the group. The NDFB split into two factions—a pro-talk faction led by Dhiren Boro and another hard-line faction led by Ranjan Daimary who claims to represent the ‘real’ NDFB. The anti-talk faction of NDFB received a big blow when its leader Ranjan Daimari was arrested in Bangladesh and later handed over to Indian authorities on 1 May 2010. During interrogation, he confessed that the October 30 serial explosions in Assam were carried out under his express instructions. He also said that he is ready for peace talks and would be able to make his commanders and cadres surrender if New Delhi was keen for negotiations.
But the anti-talk faction of NDFB carried on its violent activities. On 8 July 2010, the outfit triggered a powerful blast that flung the locomotive and two coaches of Kolkata-bound Garib Rath Express from the tracks, killing a six-year-old boy and injuring 23 others at Gossaigaon in Kokrajhar district. On 26 July 2010, it killed four jawans of the Sashastra Seema Bal and injured two others in an ambush at Amlaiguri in Chirang district bordering Bhutan. The faction then carried out a violent attack between 8 and 10 November 2010, killing 23 people in 11 separate attacks across five Bodo dominated districts of Assam. The killings were in retaliation to the killing of a NDFB anti-talk faction cadre on 8 November 2010 by the 51 Gorkha Regiment of the Indian Army. Earlier, on 1 November 2010 the anti-talk faction had issued a warning to the State Government that if any NDFB cadres were killed by the Indian Army in fake encounters, the armed wing of the NDFB will take action against ‘Indians’.
The anti-talk faction of NDFB suffered another major blow in December 2010 when security forces arrested its deputy commander-in-chief B Jwangkhang alias George Boro in Aizawl, Mizoram. He is one of the key accused in the 30 October 2008 serial bomb blasts in Assam and is now in judicial custody. On January 2011, the faction declared a unilateral truce with the Government of India in response to the government's call for negotiations. Meanwhile, on 4 February 2011, the ABSU revived its movement for a separate Bodoland state.
Between 20 July and 18 September 2012, Assam witnessed bloody clashes in the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) areas in western Assam, between the Bodos and immigrant Muslims. The violence left at least 109 dead while 5,000 houses were set ablaze in 244 villages. Just as normalcy appeared to be restored, another round of violence started on 10 November 2012, that left 11 dead and six injured in nine incidents in Kokrajhar and Baksa districts. The second conflagration, in fact, occurred as a result of attempts by some of the displaced people to return to their homes at the time of harvest.
On 1 August 2011, the NDFB-R faction declared a unilateral ceasefire, but counter-insurgency operation against the outfit continued due to its involvement in several subsequent incidents of violence. The NDFB-R headed for a split as I. K. Songbijit, the ‘chief’ of Bodoland Army (the armed wing of the faction), announced the formation of a nine member “interim national council” on 20 November 2012, with Songbijit as its self-proclaimed “interim president”. Myanmar-based I.K. Songbijit, who actually is a Karbi tribal, called off the unilateral ceasefire on 8 August 2012 and has emerged as the most lethal group.
The NDFB Songbijit faction was behind the carnage that took place at Narayanguri and Nanke-khagrabari area in Baksa district on 1 and 2 May 2014. The attacks were targeted on the Muslims in the BTC area. Out of the total 46 deaths, more than 20 were children. The militants belonging to the Songbijit faction of NDFB also carried out the most brutal attacks on civillians on 23 December 2014 in Sonitpur and Kokrajhat districts, this time targeting another community--the Adivasis. Heavily armed NDFB-S militants killed 72 people including many women and children while four people were killed in retaliatory action and three in police firing, bringing the death toll in violence to 79.
Apart from ULFA and the Bodo insurgency, Assam has been affected by insurgent movements initiated by Karbi and Dimasa tribes, the Adivasis and also the Islamists. Karbi and Dimasas have demanded autonomy for their homelands whereas the Adivasis have demanded greater recognition of their rights. However, the government has been able to bring these groups to the negotiation table.
United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) was formed in March 1999 with the merger of two insurgent groups Karbi National Volunteers (KNV) and Karbi People’s Front (KPF). The Karbi insurgent group Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF) is a breakaway faction of the UPDS and it was formed in 2004. The split was triggered by a ceasefire agreement between the UPDS and Union government in 2002. On 25 November 2011, the Centre and the Assam Government signed an accord with the UPDS. Meanwhile, KPLT (Karbi People’s Liberation Tigers) was formed on 8 January 2011, by the anti-talk faction of KLNLF with the objective of carving out an Autonomous Karbi state out of Assam. After the tripartite agreement and subsequent surrender by the UPDS, and the signing of a Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement with the KLNLF, the KPLT remains a major agent of violence in the Karbi Anglong district of Assam. In one of the violences by the KPLT, the miltants shot dead least six persons from Rengma Naga community in the Khowanigaon area of Karbi Anglong district on 27 December 2013. Retaliating to this, the Naga Rengma Hills Protection Force (NRHPF) killed nine Karbi people at Pachaspura near Chumukedima.
In the North Cachar Hills district, Dima Halam Daogah (DHD) was formed on 1 January 1995, following the en masse surrender of the Dimasa National Security Force (DNSF) in November 1994. After the DHD signed a ceasefire agreement with the government on 1 January 2003, its erstwhile president Jewel Garlossa formed the breakaway faction ‘the Black Widows’, also known as DHD (J) and unleashed a reign of terror in the district. Two factions of the DHD, the original headed by Dilip Nunisa (DHD) and the DHD (J), became active. There was an increase in the number of militant activities, killings, abductions, extortions, etc in the region. It had thrown spanner in all development works in the hill areas, including work on the East West Corridor project of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) and a railway gauge conversion project. However, the arrest of the outfit’s leader Jewel Garlossa along with two of his associates in Bangalore on 4 June 2009 changed the insurgency scenario in the district. Immediately after his arrest, the outfit announced a unilateral ceasefire with the state government. Finally on 2 October 2009, 382 cadres of DHD-J laid down their arms in front of the authorities at Haflong, headquarter of NC Hills district.
In November 2009, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which was probing the alleged diversion of funds of the North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council to the DHD-J, charge-sheeted the outfit’s 'chief' Jewel Garlossa and 'commander-in-chief' Niranjan Hojai. On 16 August 2011 both the leaders were released from jail by an interim order to participate in formal peace talks. Subsequently, peace accord or Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) was signed between the DHD and DHD(J) and the Central and State Governments on 8 October 2012 in New Delhi for creation of Dima Hasao Territorial Council (DHTC).
Five insurgent outfits of the Adivasi community—Adivasi Cobra Force (ACF), Birsa Commando Force, Santhal Tiger Force, Adivasi People's Army and Adivasi National Liberation Army are also in truce with the Government and are demanding grant of Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the State’s tea tribes.
The spread of Naxalism to Assam has added a new security dimension in the already volatile State. The arrests of several top CPI (Maoist) leaders from various parts of Assam have revealed that the Maoists have been active in the State since the nineties. The fact that Maoist activities have been taken seriously by the security establishment has been indicated by the fact that the Assam government has sent a proposal to the Centre in May 2013 to declare nine districts of the State as Left–wing Extremism affected districts. These nine districts are: Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Golaghat, Sivasagar, Goalpara, Cachar and Karimganj. But the Government of India has said that the Maoists are in a ‘latent phase’ in Assam, and have not been engaging in enough violence, and, therefore, was not keen in declaring the nine districts as Maoist-affected immediatey. In February 2014, the Chief Minister of Assam said that Maoists, apart from having a clear nexus with insurgents groups in the North-east like the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of Manipur, the ULFA (Independent), and the NSCN (IM), have also established links with the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) as well as ‘Jihadi elements.’
Between 1992 and 2014, the insurgency related fatalities reported in Assam was 8114. Out of this, 4249 were civilians and 822 were security force personnel. On the other hand, the number of militants killed in Assam during the same period was 3043. (Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal)
Efforts at building peace in Assam have been made both at the government and the civil society level.
Starting with the late 1980s, the government attempted to establish links with the ULFA through intermediaries. In 1992, the government even released some of the arrested ULFA leaders including its general secretary Anup Chetia to start a peace process. Chetia, however, jumped bail and went underground. The outfit, till the beginning of 2001, maintained a stand that peace talks with the government is possible only after three of its conditions are satisfied: talks should be outside India, under the supervision of the United Nations (UN) and that the dialogue must centre around its core demand of sovereignty of Assam. This was unacceptable to the Government. By 2005, however, ULFA had given up two of these conditions and demanded that talks must discuss the issue of Assam’s sovereignty.
On 8 September 2005, the ULFA formed the People’s Consultative Group (PCG), comprising 11 hand-picked people from various walks of life to prepare the ground-work for the eventual initiation of talks with the Union Government. The PCG held three rounds of dialogue with the government over a period of one year during which the government announced a six-week long ceasefire with the outfit. However, the process collapsed on 26 September 2006 with the truce being called off by the government as both sides refused to deviate from their positions—the ULFA wanting the release from prison of five of its detained leaders and the government insisting on a written communication that the outfit was indeed interested on talking peace. ULFA, in the meantime, had consolidated its position and carried on with its activities.
While the civil society groups in the State including the student’s organisations such as AASU, Assam Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chhatra Parishad (AJYCP), literary organisations including the Assam Sahitya Sabha (ASS) have periodically attempted to get involved in the peace process, ULFA’s recalcitrant attitude has created problems. Similarly, attempts by individuals including singer Bhupen Hazarika have not been acceptable to the outfit. Public organisations like the Assam Public Works (APW) have been largely seen as pro-government and their activities have been limited to creating public awareness against ULFA violence. On the other hand, ULFA propped up bodies like the PCG and the PCIPIA (People's Committee for Peace Initiatives in Assam is an umbrella group of 27 Assamese human rights and action groups), too have not been totally acceptable to the government for their pro-ULFA outlook. Contribution of the community-based organisations in bringing Bodo insurgency to a close, on the other hand, has been more successful. The All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU), the Bodo Sahitya Sabha (BSS) and the Bodo People’s Action Committee (BPAC) have played crucial roles in bringing both the BLT and the NDFB to the negotiating table.
On 24 June 2008 the Alfa and Charlie companies of ULFA announced ceasefire, igniting hope that peace efforts in the state would gain momentum. The leaders of the pro-talk faction of the ULFA, as they are now called, met with the intelligentsia and student bodies of the state to chart out a road map to usher in peace in Assam. They also held several meetings at various places in order to understand the general feeling among the common people and involve them in the peace process. They submitted a charter of demands to the Prime Minister in February 2009 demanding ‘full autonomy’ to Assam within the Constitutional framework. The charter says that full autonomy to the state can be the only solution to the ‘Assam-India conflict’ as it would remove the fear and insecurity from the minds of the indigenous people and provide safeguards to land, language, economy and right of self-determination.
However, with the arrests of top leaders of the ULFA, new hopes arose for finding a peaceful solution to the problem. The government showed its interest in holding talks with the outfit, with or without the presence of ULFA ‘commander-in-chief’ Paresh Baruah.
Meanwhile, a group of eminent citizens of the State, led by eminent intellectual Dr. Hiren Gohain, formed a State Level Convention, ‘Sanmilita Jatiya Abhivartan’ in April 2010, in order to restore peace between the insurgents and the government and facilitate an environment for effective peace talks between the two. The convention called upon both New Delhi and the ULFA to come forward for the negotiation table without any pre-condition (and without delay). In a draft resolution, the convention called upon the government to pave way for free passages to the jailed ULFA leaders for consultations before talks with New Delhi.
But the response that the convention received from Paresh Barua was not favourable. In a prompt statement e-mailed to the media, the ULFA ‘commander-in-chief’ not only criticized the convention for its initiative, but also alleged that they did not have adequate knowledge about the ‘freedom movement’ of ULFA. He also asserted that there would be no talks without the issue of ‘sovereignty’ being discussed.
On 26 May 2010, the Assam State Cabinet decided to start the process of talks with the ULFA without Paresh Baruah. However, the Government also made it clear that the anti-insurgency operations against those who try to indulge in violence would continue. The available members of the ULFA’s general council met on 28 May 2010 in Guwahati Central Jail to take a decision regarding peace talks with the government. However, they decided that it was not proper to start talks without its commander-in-chief Paresh Barua. The ULFA leaders also made it clear that only the release of the central committee leaders of the outfit would facilitate the policy making body of the ULFA to take vital decisions. On 30 May 2010, Assam Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi asked the ULFA to formally apprise the government of its decision on opening peace talks. He said the rebel group should tell the government what they want and the government would discuss their proposals in detail and do whatever was possible to get the talk process going.
On 22 June 2010, a six-member delegation of the Sanmilita Jatiya Abhivartan (SJA), which aims at facilitating peace talks between the Centre and the ULFA, met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and asked him to revive peace talks between the Government and the ULFA. The delegation also discussed the possible release of jailed ULFA leaders to boost peace talks. But the government said that it would not release the jailed leaders. The members of the convention again met the Prime Minister, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Home Minister P. Chidambaram during 21-26 July 2010 and urged them to expedite the process for starting the peace process.
On 15 July 2010 the Centre appointed Mr PC Haldar, former Director (IB), as interlocutor to take forward the process of initiating peace with the ULFA. He is also the interlocutor for talks with NDFB, and earlier with the DHD (J) and UPDS. He met with the ULFA leaders in Guwahati Central Jail on 23 July 2010 and said that he was 'satisfied' with the talks and hoped that the peace process will be initiated soon.
On 7 May 2011, the SJA formally handed over the charter of demands to the ULFA leadership for consideration. On 12 July, the pro-talk faction of the ULFA declared unilateral and indefinite cease-fire with the Government. Declaring the ceasefire, the outfit’s chairman, Arabinda Rajkhowa said that in the interest of creating a congenial atmosphere for talks, ULFA has declared a unilateral ceasefire. He said that the ceasefire was in accordance with the resolution adopted in the 5th General Council of the ULFA held on 22 February 2011.
On 5 August 2011, ULFA handed over its charter of demands to Union Home Minister, P. Chidambaram and Assam Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi in New Delhi. The charter, which they called ‘Framework of Charter for Negotiations to Resolve the Issues between Assam and India’, was submitted by a seven-member delegation of ULFA, led by its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa. The 12 broad groupings under which negotiations are proposed to start are:
(A) Grounds for ULFA’s struggle and their genuineness.
(B) Status report on missing ULFA leaders and cadres
(C) Constitutional and Political arrangements and Reforms-including protection of the identity and material resources of the local indigenous population of Assam.
(D) Financial and Economic Arrangements, including settlement of all royalties on mines/minerals including oil on a retrospective compensatory basis and rights of independent use for a sustainable economic development in future.
(E) Illegal migration--its effect/impact and required remedies including sealing of international borders, river patrolling, development of a native force to man the borders.
(F) Ethnic issues--problems and constitutional restructuring including settlement of border disputes and removal of encroachment.
(G) Education and Health-reforms as required to preserve the identity of the people of Assam and benefits.
(H) Agricultural and Rural Development.
(I) Land and Natural resources-including right of natives to the land, flood control and management.
(J) Industrial Growth-Development of infrastructure, removal of transport bottleneck, development of entrepreneurial skill and efficiency in labour, availability of credit, infusion of capital-leading to industrial take off and right to engage in specific relationship with foreign countries for promotion of mutual trade, commerce and cultural relationship.
(K) Restoration, protection, preservation and spread of indigenous culture of Assam in all its variety.
(L) Amnesty, re-integration and rehabilitation of ULFA members and affected people.
On 3 September 2011, a tripartite agreement for suspension of operations (SoO) was signed between the Central Government, Assam Government and the ULFA in New Delhi. On 25 October 2011, the first formal round of political dialogue between ULFA and the Government took place in New Delhi. The talks were held on the basis of the charter of demands submitted by the outfit.
The State government, in order to facilitate the peace talks with ULFA, had stopped objecting the bail pleas of the jailed ULFA leaders. This has paved the way for their release and by January 2011 all the eight jailed top leaders of the ULFA central committe were out of the jail. This include, chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, vice-chairman Pradip Gogoi, publicity chief Mithinga Daimary, deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah, finance secretary Chitraban Hazarika, foreign secretary Sasadhar Choudhury, cultural secretary Pranati Deka, and political ideologue Bhimkanta Buragohain (granted bail on December 2010, died on December 2011). There are also chances of ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia being extradited to India from Bangladesh to help him take part in the proposed peace talks.
A rift within the ULFA became visible when ULFA sent out a message declaring continuation of its fight for a sovereign Assam. The message was accompanied with a photograph of Paresh Barua and armed cadres of ULFA in battle fatigues. For the first time since its formation, ULFA also sent a video footage showing Paresh Barua and the ULFA cadres. The video displayed ULFA cadres giving slogans against peace talks and vowing to fight for a sovereign Assam. The photograph was sent on 20 January 2011 and the video on 21 January 2011. The ULFA formally split on November 2011 and the hardliners headed by Paresh Barua came to be known as ULFA Independent.
On 5 August 2011, top ULFA leaders met Home Minister P. Chidambaram and presented the group’s ‘charter of demands’, setting the ball rolling for peace talks with the government. The demands include, Constitutional and political arrangements and reforms, protection of the identity and material resources of indigenous population of Assam.
According to the Annual Report 2013-14 of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, tripartite dialogue is underway with the ULFA Pro-talk faction and Mr P.C. Haldar has been appointed as the interlocutor for holding the talks. A tripartite meeting involving the representatives of Government of Assam and ULFA was held on 26 June 2013 under the Chairmanship of Mr R.K. Singh, the then Union Home Secretary at New Delhi to review the progress made in talks with ULFA and also to discuss their demands. The ULFA delegation was led by Arabinda Rajkhowa. Among other issues, ULFA leaders requested additional measures to be taken for effective guarding of Indo-Bangladesh Border to check illegal infiltration from across the border. The Homer Ministry observed that talks are nearing solution.
There has been a series of talks between the Centre and the ULFA led by Chairman Arabindo Rajkhowa. However, not much progress has been made beyond finalizing the modalities of talks. The greatest hurdle has been the continuing militancy of Paresh Barua.
Peace process concerning the Bodo insurgency movement could be actually traced back to the early 1990s. The Bodo movement that began in March 1987 for the creation of an independent state of Bodoland culminated in the bipartite Bodo Accord signed by the Government of Assam and representatives of ABSU and BPAC on 20 February 1993 paving the way for the creation of the Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC). This first Bodo Accord was reached with the objective to provide maximum autonomy to the Bodos for social, economic, educational, ethnic and cultural advancement within the framework of the Indian Constitution.
However, the BAC became a failed experiment as its territory was not fully demarcated, leaving room for all kinds of confusion and resentment among the Bodo groups, their leaders and the Bodo people. The ABSU, under its then president Swambla Basumatary, rejected and denounced the Bodo Accord and revived its demand for the creation of a separate state of Bodoland to be carved out of Assam, and submitted a memorandum to the then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao on 19 March 1996. Swambla Basumatary was assassinated by NDFB militants on 30 July 1996. BLT was formed on 18 June 1996 waging an armed movement for statehood.
Informal talks between the Government and the erstwhile BLT started in 1999 and a formal cessation of hostilities was declared on 15 March 2000. The BLT signed the second Bodo peace accord with the Centre and the State Government on 10 February 2003 leading to the formation of BTC (Bodoland Territorial Council) under the amended provisions of the Sixth Schedule. On 6 December 2003, as many as 2,630 BLT cadres laid down arms. The ABSU and the erstwhile Coordination Committee for the Bodoland Movement (CCBM), which spearheaded the revived statehood movement in a democratic way, were sidelined at the time of the signing of the Accord even though they enjoyed more popular support than the erstwhile BLT. However, they backed the peace deal.
Soon after the formation of the Bodo political party called Bodoland People’s Progressive Front (BPPF) on 12 April 2005 constituted by former BLT leaders and ABSU-CCBM leaders, it faced a split: the BPPF (Hagrama), led by Hagrama Mahilary, the erstwhile BLT chief and chief executive member of the ad hoc BTC, and BPPF (Rabiram), led by Rabiram Narzary, former ABSU president. Widespread clashes between the two factions marred the first elections to the BTC.
The NDFB founder chairman Ranjan Daimary initiated a peace process by declaring a unilateral ceasefire on 8 October 2004, for a period of six months, which was extended to another three months. On 25 May 2005, he signed a bilateral agreement with the Central Government on the Suspension of Operations. In the same year, 855 NDFB cadres led by its general secretary, Govinda Basumatary, moved into three designated camps in Kokrajhar, Baksa and Udalguri districts. But Ranjan Daimary did not come overground and continued to operate out of his bases in Bangladesh along with armed cadres of the third battalion of the militant outfit.
Daimary was expelled by the NDFB on 1 January 2009 for his alleged involvement in the 30 October 2008 serial blasts. Earlier, Daimary was replaced with a new leader, B. Sungthagra alias Dhiren Boro on 15 December 2008. The outfit split into two factions, one led by Sungthagra and known as the NDFB (Ceasefire) and the other led by Ranjan Daimary. Later, the NDFB (Ceasefire) came to be known as the NDFB (Progressive) and the other faction as the NDFB (Ranjan Daimary).
After the arrest of NDFB chief Ranjan Daimary in May 2010, the Bodo heartland seemed to have heaved a sigh of relief. Daimary agreed for peace talks and said that he would be able to make his commanders and cadres surrender if New Delhi was keen for negotiations.
On 19 November 2010, a new umbrella organisation of the Bodos, called the Bodo National Conference (BNC), was formed at a two-day Bodo National Convention in Kokrajhar. Its objective was providing a common platform for all Bodo organisations –political and non-political – to fight for their common causes, including the demand for a separate state of Bodoland. However, the NDFB (Progressive) distanced itself from the BNC in November 2011 on the grounds that the BNC did not have the issue of a separate State of Bodoland on its agenda. The NDBF (Progressive) said it had been holding talks with the Government of India on the issue of a separate State.
In August 2011, the Ranjan Daimary faction of NDFB declared an indefinite cessation of hostilities to find a durable and sustainable political solution to the conflict through political dialogue and discussion. The declaration came after an 11-member delegation of the BNC met Daimary at the Nagaon central jail on 20 July 2011. The NDFB(R) faction had a visible split in August 2012. Myanmar-based I.K. Songbijit, who actually is a Karbi tribal, called off the unilateral ceasefire on 8 August 2012 and has emerged as the most lethal group.
Ranjan Daimary was released from jail on a six-month interim bail in June 2013 to expedite the proposed talks between the NDFB and the Government of India. Three weeks after walking out from jail, Ranjan Daimary sat with Centre's interlocutor P C Haldar on 18 July to 'formally' start the peace process. On 29 November 2013, the Ranjan Daimary faction of the NDFB and the Government of India signed formal ceasefire agreement thus paving the road to peace talks. Daimary was again arrested on 29 September 2014, when he went to
appear in the hearing of his TADA cases in a Guwahati court. The TADA court, however, granted six months’ bail to Ranjan Daimary on 28 November 2014.
According to the Annual Report 2013-14 of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, tripartite talks are presently underway with NDFB Progressive and NDFB Ranjan Daimary faction with Mr P.C. Haldar as the interlocutor. Tripartite meetings were held with the representatives of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Progressive) on 12 September 2013 and 20 February 2014 to discuss their demands. The meetings also reviewed the functioning of Suspension of Operation (SoO) arrangement and observance of Agreed Ground Rules. SoO agreement with NDFB was extended up to 30 September 2014. On 10 September 2013 and 23 October 2013, meetings of Joint Working Group with NDFB(RD) were held at Guwahati for finalization of agreed ground rules of SoO Agreement. Agreed Ground Rules of SoO Agreement with NDFB/RD group was signed on 29 November 2013 at Guwahati. As per SoO Agreement, the outfit will deposit all arms held by them with the Government.
On 23 May 2002, the United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) signed a ceasefire agreement with the Government for one year leading to a split in the group. The pro-talk faction of UPDS held a round of peace talks with the Central Government and the State Government on 22 December 2010 in New Delhi where all the three sides approved a draft accord paving the way for the signing of a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS). On 25 November 2011, the Centre and the Assam Government signed an accord with the UPDS. The Centre declared a package worth over Rs 2000 crore, and the Karbi Anglong Autonomous District Council was to have been rechristened as ‘Karbi Anglong Autonomous Territorial Council’(KAATC). The proposed KAATC will have 50 members, out of which 44 will be elected and 6 to be nominated by the Governor of Assam.
The UPDS dissolved itself in December 2011.
According to the Annual Report 2013-14 of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, a tripartite meeting involving the representatives of Central Government, Government of Assam and former UPDS was held on 9 July 2013 to review the implementation status of the various clauses of the MoS signed with UPDS.
The Karbi insurgent group Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF) started its peace process in 2009 after it declared unilateral ceasefire in January that year. The outfit laid down arms on 11 February 2010 to pave the way for peace talks.
There was an en masse surrender of the Dimasa National Security Force (DNSF) in November 1994 in the North Cachar Hills district. The DHD (Dima Halam Daogah), which was formed on 1 January 1995, signed a ceasefire agreement with the Government on 1 January 2003 leading to the formation of DHD (Jewel Garlossa faction). Then, after the arrest of Jewel Garlossa on 4 June 2009, the outfit announced a unilateral ceasefire with the State Government. Finally on 2 October 2009, 382 cadres of DHD-J laid down their arms in front of the authorities at Haflong, headquarter of NC Hills district.
On 16 August 2011 the leaders of DHD-J who were charge sheeted by the NIA, were released from jail by an interim order to participate in formal peace talks. Subsequently, peace accord or Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) was signed between the DHD and DHD(J) and the Central and State Governments on 8 October 2012 in New Delhi for creation of Dima Hasao Territorial Council (DHTC). According to the Annual Report 2013-14 of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, a tripartite meeting was held on 10 July 2013 to review the implementation status of the various clauses of Memorandum of Settlement signed with Dima Halam Daogah (DHD/N) and DHD (Joel Garlosa) on 8 October 2012, granting enhanced autonomy for the North Cachar Hills Autonmous Council in Assam and also a special package for speedier socio-economic and educational development of the area. Both DHD(J) and DHD(N) have dissolved their organizations.
The Annual Report 2013-14 of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, states that the Adivasi groups, namely Adivasi Cobra Military of Assam (ACMA), Adivasi People’s Army (APA), Santhali Tiger Force (STF), Birsa Commando Force (BCF) and All Adivasi National Liberation army (AANLA) and other four outfits of Kuki and Hmar in Assam surrendered their arms on 24 January 2012 and joined the peace process. Meeting to review the demands of these outfits was held on 31 November 2013 at Guwahati. Their demands are being implemented.
According to a State Government report, 13 militant outfits are now talking with the Government. Peace talks, however, have not yet gained momentum with any of the rebel groups in Assam.
(Updated till December 2014)