clears mind on ULFA, but what now?
|POSTED ON FEBRUARY 6, 2010
director, Centre for Development
and Peace Studies
What many had suspected and thought could be a possible
game-plan or a course of action has finally come true.
The Centre has made known its mind on the issue of holding
possible peace talks with the outlawed ULFA when it
said a dialogue can begin even without the participation
of the rebel group’s elusive military chief Paresh
Baruah. This stand of New Delhi has made one thing clear---the
Government would be hoping to make Paresh Baruah ‘irrelevant’
in the peace process by coming forward to start peace
talks with the ULFA top-brass who are currently in jail.
On Monday, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram made
two main points on the ULFA issue---first he said the
Government was waiting for an offer for talks from the
top ULFA leaders who have recently been apprehended,
and secondly he said one cannot wait indefinitely for
Paresh Baruah to turn up and join the peace efforts.
“Our offer to talk to ULFA remains, but we have
not yet got an offer to talk with those who have been
apprehended,” Chidambaram said, referring to arrested
ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, foreign secretary Sasadhar
Choudhury, finance secretary Chitrabon Hazarika, deputy
‘commander-in-chief’ Raju Baruah and others.
Take a look at what the Home Minister had said with
regards to the ULFA military chief: “Paresh Baruah
is not with us. We do not think he is in India. Just
because Baruah is out of the country, does not mean
that talks can be avoided indefinitely.” One does
not need a more clear statement from New Delhi. The
Government is now getting ready to start talks with
the ULFA under the leadership of Arabinda Rajkhowa.
The Assam Government on its part is keen on accepting
the condition put by the jailed ULFA leaders that they
be first freed, by whatever means, before they can actually
think of starting the peace process. Rajkhowa has said
they cannot send out a signal or write a letter to the
Government while being in jail. The ULFA leaders have
raised the question of self-respect and ‘dignity.’
The impression one gathers from all these is that Rajkhowa
& Co. too are keen on starting the peace talks..
The challenge this time round for the Government may
not be on the issue of releasing the jailed ULFA leaders.
That’s because these leaders are unlikely to jump
bail as in the past. First, Bangladesh has denied them
free stay in the country by capturing them and handing
them over to India and secondly their wives and children
are now very much in the open, having been allowed to
go home by the authorities. Besides, going by the role
played by a member of the People’s Consultative
Group (PCG), it appears that the PCG itself or the PCG
member in his individual capacity may also have come
forward to stand guarantee that the jailed leaders would
not disappear if freed.
The critical issue will be the agenda for the talks.
New Delhi is not going to have anything to do with the
demand of ‘sovereignty.’ Now, the pro-talk
ULFA group headed by Mrinal Hazarika and his colleagues
are talking about ‘total autonomy’ to Assam.
By the way, the pro-talk ULFA group is also likely to
lend its weight behind Arabinda Rajkhowa if the latter
comes forward for talks. The ULFA need to actually firm
up its charter of demands if it is sit for talks with
the Government. Assuming that the pro-talk group headed
by Mrinal Hazarika is to sit for talks, it must also
be clear on what it means by ‘total autonomy’
to Assam. Will such an autonomy idea overlap with the
existing autonomy already being enjoyed by the ethnic
groups like the Bodos, the Karbis or the Dimasas? What
could that magic formula be on the basis of which talks
to end the 30-year-old insurrection can begin?
Answers to these questions are critical. We are all
aware of the extreme lack of transparency in the talks
between the Government and the NSCN-IM since 1997.What
is not difficult to understand is that the Naga problem
is not going to be settled if the Government and the
NSCN-IM are to sign a deal tomorrow. Similarly, one
can very well ask the question: will the ULFA insurrection
end if Paresh Baruah is not part of any peace process?
The answer may be a clear no, but again how long can
one wait for the recalcitrant ULFA military chief. Like
the NSCN leaders, the ULFA’s top leadership too
is running against time. They are all now middle aged
and must have realized they cannot achieve their dream
by securing a military victory over the Indian state.
The ULFA is actually at the crossroads now and the ball
for peace lies very much in its court.
(This article was published in The
Sentinel, February 6, 2010)