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Come on, ULFA is divided and let us face it


wasbir hussain
director, Centre for Development and Peace Studies

We need to face facts on every critical issue confronting our State and only then can our society or individuals contribute its bit in resolving some of these issues. One of the facts we need to accept today is that the ULFA is an outfit that is divided. It would be nothing but a travesty of truth if we are to think that ULFA’s overground chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, its foreign secretary Sasadhar Choudhury, vice-chairman Pradip Gogoi, and some other leaders, besides the faction that is on a ceasefire since June 2008, are one with Paresh Baruah, the group’s exiled military chief. To put things simply – Arabinda Rajkhowa is heading one faction (and the ceasefire group led by Mrinal Hazarika & Co appears to be with Rajkhowa) and Paresh Baruah is heading another.

When thinker Dr Hiren Gohain and some other intellectuals took the initiative to float a Citizens’ Forum earlier this month to take the ULFA peace process forward, ULFA members like Kaveri Kachari, wife of Arabinda Rajkhowa, said they support such an initiative for peace. Gohain and his group had said they have been receiving informal signals from the ULFA indicating that the group was keen on talks and that its elusive military chief Paresh Baruah, too, was not averse to joining the dialogue process provided the Government demonstrated sincerity.

If at all any hope was generated out of this sudden initiative (the first after the collapse of the ULFA-initiated People’s Consultative Group or PCG in 2006), it was short-lived. Paresh Baruah was quick to send out a media statement saying his group would never compromise on its demand for sovereignty. “There is no question of compromising on the main demand of sovereignty and we cannot understand how the Citizens’ Forum is thinking of peace talks without the core demand of independence. We will not accept any such negotiations or solution without independence,” Paresh Baruah said in his statement. The ULFA military chief added: “We don’t want intellectuals working at the behest of colonial rulers.”

One thing is very clear now: Paresh Baruah and his group has shown no sign whatsoever of climbing down from their key demand of ‘sovereignty’ for Assam, and that means talks between the ULFA and the Government of India, with the inclusion of Paresh Baruah, are not possible. If New Delhi is to hold talks at all with the ULFA, it will be only with a faction of the group. Whether this faction turns out to be the one headed by Arabinda Rajkhowa, together with the pro-talk ULFA group led by Mrinal Hazarika, or whether it is only with the Mrinal Hazarika-headed group, is left to be seen.

The latest turn of events, apart from exposing the clear division within the ULFA, has also made another thing clear: civil society initiatives do not seem to hold any meaning, at least till now, for Paresh Baruah. Now what? Dr Gohain has meanwhile asked a critical question whether Paresh Baruah’s latest statement has the endorsement of all top ULFA leaders like Arabinda Rajkhowa or the ULFA central committee. If it has, then it is fine, says Dr Gohain, but if not, then the answer is obvious — meaning the ULFA military chief’s may not be the last word on the group’s approach to the peace process. This is the key point that needs to be kept in mind.

The ball is now in the court of Arabinda Rajkhowa and his group really. They have to clarify whether they can have any peace talks with the Government without confabulating on the issue of sovereignty. If not, then the ULFA imbroglio will continue for an indefinite period of time, although the Government would then, without doubt, start the dialogue process with the pro-talk ULFA group led by Mrinal Hazarika which has already announced giving up the sovereignty demand. If that is to happen, both the groups headed by Arabinda Rajkhowa and Paresh Baruah could be isolated, at least by the Government. In the final analysis, the ULFA issue is set to linger and linger for long, getting murkier along the way.