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Is Paresh ULFA’s tiger with the sharpest teeth?


wasbir hussain
director, Centre for Development and Peace Studies

I am left with no option other than saying that the Arabinda Rajkhowa camp of the ULFA, and not the ULFA as a whole, has started peace talks with the Government of India, hoping to clinch a deal in the days ahead that would perhaps bring in maximum autonomy and rights to Assam and its people. If negotiating with the mandarins of the North Block is challenging enough for Rajkhowa & Co, dealing with the belligerent military chief Paresh Baruah is going to be more difficult. After all, despite efforts by the Rajkhowa camp to say there is no division within the ULFA on the issue of talks, it is now official that the rebel group has split. The Paresh Barua camp has rejected the ULFA general council meeting held in the past fortnight by Arabinda Rajkhowa and his colleagues. Paresh Baruah has made it clear he was opposed to the talks in its present form and that any dialogue has to centre around the group’s key demand of sovereignty.

Now, the question is being asked — how much credence could one lend to the Rajkhowa-led talks in the wake of rejection of the peace process by Paresh Baruah? Well, no one can deny the following facts — that the maximum number of top ULFA leaders are today with Rajkhowa and are in favour of talking peace to bring about a negotiated political settlement to the insurgency, and that a public convention held at the initiative of writer Hiren Gohain had unequivocally given a call for peace through a dialogue. Therefore, the group led by Rajkhowa, by the simple arithmetic of majority, commands the will of the people, as also of his group, to enter into a dialogue with New Delhi. What is also true is the fact that Paresh Baruah still has cadres with him and that his voice, too, cannot be totally ignored. That is the reason why government leaders, including Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, has been saying they were still hoping Paresh Baruah would change his mind and join the peace process.

An analyst observing insurgency in the Northeast for decades has made a very interesting remark. He says when New Delhi signed the Shillong Accord in 1975, the Government leaders were happy because they had thought the deal would bring and end to the Naga rebellion. They had arrived at this conclusion because only a few Naga leaders like Thuingaleng Muivah, Isak Chishi Swu and SS Khaplang were opposed to the Shillong Accord. Later, it turned out that the voice or strength of the few Naga rebel leaders opposed to the Accord was stronger than those who were part of the controversial deal, and the Naga insurrection only gained ground, leading to the birth of the NSCN. The same analogy is sought to be used in the situation facing the ULFA. The question is will Paresh Baruah emerge as the tiger in the ULFA with the sharpest teeth?

The authorities have already predicted that Paresh Baruah could now try and demonstrate his strength. Chief Minister Gogoi has said the ULFA group led by Paresh Baruah could indulge in acts of violence in Assam. But, going by the mood of the people which is for restoration of peace in the state of 26 million, Paresh Baruah may not actually strike terror, at least immediately. He might now try to rebuild his organization by recruiting cadres and hand-picking a new set of leaders to fill the void created by the decision of Rajkhowa and his colleagues to part ways and start talks. Yes, in the days ahead Paresh Baruah will obviously try to carry out acts that would make the Government sit up and take notice or review their assessment of the strike potential of this faction.

It is here that the civil society in Assam has failed to intervene. There was no visible attempt by any individual or civil society group to reach out to Paresh Baruah and make him change his stance. On the contrary, the following trend was observed — there were people who seemed to back Rajkhowa and his group, and there were others who simply seemed to be content with saying that talks without Paresh Baruah cannot resolve the ULFA insurrection. In the final analysis, the Government is actually talking to just one ULFA faction. Now, what is the shape of a solution that the Rajkhowa group could work on? Can the Government hope to resolve the issue by talking to just Rajkhowa and his group and not representatives of other groups and communities across Assam? Not having Paresh Baruah in the talks is just one problem, there are other tricky issues to grapple with, like the aspirations of various communities and ethnic groups. The road ahead in so far as the ULFA peace process is concerned is full of spikes.

(courtesy: The Sentinel)