ULFA Bandh Tactics That Worked and Failed

Losing ground drastically, the banned United Liberation Front of Assam tried its hands once again with the bandh (shutdown or total non-cooperation) tactics. Amazingly, the idea clicked for the ULFA hardliners led by its military chief Paresh Barua. The 12-hour Assam bandh on April 2 was successful mostly thanks to India-Sri Lanka cricket match.

The bandh was called in protest against the Indian Premier’s visit to Assam for election campaigning. Starting at 6 am, the bandh passed off peacefully amidst which Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh campaigned in eastern Assam in support of Congress candidates for the State Assembly election scheduled on April 4th and on April 11th.

Dr Singh, who was accompanied by Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh and Bhubaneswar Kalita arrived in Dhakuakhana of Lakhimpur district in the morning and addressed a mammoth election rally at around 11 a.m. On the same day, the representative of Assam in the upper house of the Indian Parliament (Rajya Sabha) addressed another public meeting at Juria of Nagaon district for the party candidates.

The outlawed ULFA, which is fighting the Indian government for a Swadhin Asom since 1979, called for the bandh to show their resentments on the Prime Ministers’ visit ahead of Assam polls for the 126 State Legislative Assembly. The armed militant group earlier called for a day long Assam bandh on March 28, the day Dr Singh initially planned to visit the State. Suddenly Dr Singh’s visit was postponed and the outfit immediately withdrew their bandh call.

In the recent e-mail statement issued by Arunadoi Dahatiya, publicity secretary of ULFA argued that Dr Singh had made enough useless promises to the people of Assam. The last one was the promise made by him ‘to discuss all core issues for political solution of Assam-India conflict’ but it was not materialized. The April 2 bandh could make impact on the State, where the shutdown was almost total in Brahmaputra valley and was partially effective in Barak valley of Assam.

The roads wore a deserted look as there was little traffic and also shops were closed, though the train and air services were operated as usual. The ULFA even blamed Dr Singh as a liar because of his official residential address in Guwahati. It argues that Dr Singh hails from Punjab State in north India and shows a rented house in Guwahati to contest for Rajya Sabha polls from Assam. His permanent residence has been shown in a government document as House No 3989, Nandan Nagar, Sarumotoria, Dispur, Guwahati, Assam-781006.

All these arrangements were made by the then Assam chief minister Hiteswar Saikia in 1991 to facilitate Dr Singh to reach the Indian Parliament as a Congress nominee. Since then the economist turned politician remains a Rajya Sabha member from Assam and incidentally he becomes the prime minister instead of Indian Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. “The Congress not only divided the indigenous communities of Assam but also turned the State into a grazing ground for foreigners (read illegal migrants from Bangladesh).

We want the birthrights of indigenous people must be restored,” said the ULFA statement adding, “We want to make it clear that the people of Assam will never be fooled by false promises made by the Congress party anymore.” The bandh itself showed the vertical divide of ULFA, as the Arabinda Rajkhowa faction appealed to the people of Assam to oppose it. In a separate statement issued by Kamal Kochari, it claimed that they were not involved with the bandh call.

The statement even indirectly warned Paresh Barua faction of ULFA for calling the programme without the knowledge of Arabinda Rajkhowa or its central committee leaders. Mentionable that a group of ULFA leaders, most of whom were arrested in Bangladesh months back and later released on bail by Indian courts, had recently talked to Dr Singh in New Delhi and an initial peace process with the ULFA faction led by its chairman Rajkhowa started.

Dr Singh in his speech on Saturday meeting in Assam also mentioned about the peace process with the ULFA leaders and expressed his satisfaction on the progress. He appealed to the other militant groups of the trouble torn region for coming forward for discussion. But the other faction by its C-in-C Paresh Barua maintains waging a war against New Delhi. Most of them are believed to be inside Burma, as Dhaka government became hostile to them, and some are suspected to be inside China, from where they are maintaining the disruptive activities.

In both the election rallies, Dr Singh urged the electorate of Assam to support the Congress led government at Dispur once again. The party is expecting for a consecutive third term in Assam as the opposition parties namely Asom Gana Parishad, Bharatiya Janata Party and AIUDF remain un-united and not much visible among the people. The cricket loving people of Assam find it very pleasing as they could enjoy the high voltage World Cup Cricket final match between India and Sri Lanka starting by afternoon in Mumbai and telecast live though various channels.

The cricket fans had earlier enjoyed an exciting semi-final match between India and Pakistan. After 1983, Indian fans including those cricket lovers from Assam, expected to win the cricket world cup once again in 2011. And it happened only to excite them to join the nationwide midnight celebration round the country spreading the message that Assam cricket fans were happy and proud as being Champion Indians, which might have ULFA leader Paresh Barua could not anticipate!