Now it is Assam Versus ULFA

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The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), formed in 1979 to fight for a ‘Sovereign Socialist Asom’, today faces a peculiar and embracing situation. The civil societies, advocacy groups with political parties and student organizations of Assam have come to the streets raising their voices against the hundred thousand illegal Bangladeshis living in the State. The local media too remained full of news, analysis and editorial columns on the issue since a high court verdict observed that illegal migrants from Bangladesh would soon emerge as the king makers in Assam.

But the banned armed outfit, who pledged to be the saviour of Assamese people, maintained unbelievable silence on the issue. The media savvy group had not issued a single statement regarding the deportation of illegal Bangladeshis from Assam. Their stand is however understood as usual that the ULFA leaders continues to demand deporting of all foreigners (read Nepali, Hindi speaking people from mainland India with Bangladeshis) from the region. They never, as their press statements argued in the past, distinguished illegal Bangladeshis with the mainland Indian population living in the State.

Note that Assam was ignited by a Gauhati High Court verdict weeks back against the illegal migrants from Bangladesh, where it expressed the apprehension that the State’s indigenous people might be reduced to minorities soon, in their own land. The court also warned that neither the Centre nor the State government could disown their foremost responsibility of defending India’s borders to prevent trespassers and ensure the security of its citizens.

It is mentionable that the All Assam Student’s Union-led historic Assam Agitation was the outcome of the prolonged anxiety of indigenous Assamese against Bangladeshis living illegally in the state. The movement, started in 1979 to deport millions of Bangladeshis, united all social and advocacy groups. It culminated in 1984 following the signing of the Assam Accord and it also paved the way for emerging of the regional political party, Asom Gana Parishad.

Now with the growing public outcry on the issue, the ULFA leaders find themselves in an uncomfortable situation. Most of the people of Assam are today convinced that some of the senior ULFA leaders are taking shelter in Bangladesh. Not only staying there as armed cadres, they have maintained business interests in that country. It is widely believed that the ULFA military head Paresh Baruah is running a huge business avenue including hotel and travel agencies based in Dhaka. The latest media report reveals that the outfit also possesses stakes in a major Bangladeshi newspaper group.

That the dreaded outfit was not in a comfortable and commanding position was also proved with the almost peaceful celebration of Independence Day this time, even though it imposed a general strike on August 15 in Assam to prevent the observation. Unlike the last few years, there were no explosions and brutal killing by the ULFA militants, when the State was preparing for the celebration of the Day. For the record, more common people in general and journalists in particular joined the observation. Like earlier years, journalists and conscientious citizens of the city gathered at Guwahati Press Club premises to hoist the National Flag. They also held a procession in the streets of the city. Significantly, the State witnessed a good number of community celebrations of the Day and thousands hoisted the Tricolour atop their houses braving the diktat of the militants including the ULFA.

The outfit also faced a major crisis, when some of the active ULFA rebels under its 28th Battalion announced a unilateral ceasefire two months ago. The rebels urged the ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa with those central committee leaders of the outfit to come forward for peace talks with New Delhi. Among the pro-talk rebels, Jiten Dutta dared to irritate the ULFA leaders while he demanded the deportation of Bangladeshis from the region.

Now staying in a designated camp at Sadiya in eastern Assam with other members of ceasefire groups, Dutta was vocal against the Bangladeshis since earlier days and he issued occasional statements to the local newspapers demanding the deportation of those migrants. Then it was received with suspicion that Jiten Dutta, though he introduced himself as a commander, was not a real ULFA cadre. Because, it was a general observation that ULFA could never raise voice against Bangladeshis.

One can guess that the uprising in Assam may or may not succeed in deporting those migrants from Bangladesh, but it is for sure that the ambience has created a situation, where ULFA turns into the opposite poll and that is against the interest of indigenous Assamese people.