Timely action rather than forced reaction is essential if peace is to become a reality in Assam. The Centre has always had a tendency to react rather than act on issues relating to the problems faced by the state. Violence by the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) before the Republic Day, the Independence Day and the outfit´s foundation day on April 7, has become a regular annual feature. This year with peace talks underway, ULFA was expected to show some restraint. But the Centre´s delay in announcing a date for the next meeting with the People´s Consultative Group (PCG) gave them an excuse to resort to violence. Hence the recent series of bomb blasts by ULFA, which could have been prevented if the Centre had acted by announcing the date for the next meeting with the PCG sooner than later. The Centre´s belated announcement fixing February 7, for the next round of peace talks was in away a forced reaction to the ULFA´s series of bomb blasts.
To ensure the peace talks proceed smoothly and progress in a time-bound manner, the Centre should form a peace committee exclusively to conduct negotiations with ULFA. The committee can be headed by an eminent person of good repute who enjoys the confidence and trust of all the parties involved in the negotiations. Officials of the state and Central government departments concerned should be deputed to the committee on a full-time basis with a fixed tenure so that continuity and responsibility is maintained. The central and state governments should each be represented by a Cabinet Minister. Only the head of the committee should coordinate between the Centre, the state and ULFA on all matters related to the peace process. This will help avoid confusion caused by differing statements made by various officials. The committee can also constantly monitor the progress of the talks and ensure they do not suffer due to time constraints.
It is also imperative that the PCG must now prepare the ground work for the ULFA leadership to join the talks directly. This will not only give the talks credibility, but also dispel any doubts about the sincerity of ULFA regarding the peace initiative. The ULFA´s direct participation would also make it possible to work out a ceasefire agreement, which will enable the Centre to suspend army operations.
Moreover, the people have always had to resort to agitations to convince the Centre to consider even the state´s genuine demands?whether for an oil refinery, bridge over the Brahmaputra, medical college, university or detecting and deporting lakhs of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. The Centre´s indifferent attitude has often kept it ignorant of the socio-economic ground realities prevailing in the state. Consequently, more often than not there has been indecision and the state´s problems have been kept hanging to simmer on the back-burner. An obvious fallout of this has been agitations and insurgency.
But the advent of Information Technology (IT) has brought a welcome change in the attitude of the government as well as the people. IT has opened up the world and turned it into a global village. Market economics rather than politics has caused a realignment of global forces. Releasing the growth opportunities presented by the economic potential and vast natural resources of the north-east region, the Centre has now adopted a look east policy. The policy envisages development of the inherent potential of the region along with the necessary infrastructure so that it becomes a bridge to the growing economics of South-East Asia. Access to information has also changed the people´s attitude. They now realise that economic development and not political agitation is the real solution for all their ills.
It is significant that the Centre-ULFA peace talks are taking place at a time when the world has united against terrorism. International perspectives have also changed, becoming more inclined to resolving regional disparities through socio-economic development. Violence cannot remove regional, social or economic inequalities. Economic progress along with social upliftment is the only way to remove backwardness, for which a violence-free environment is necessary. The time has come for the peace-makers to seriously address the real issue of ending violence and ensuring peace. ULFA must acknowledge that the people of Assam want peace to be the new basis for a prosperous Assam. The Centre must henceforth show the will to take a decision and timely action, so that the opportunity to end insurgency and bring peace is not lost.