For the ghastly drama enacted during the last few days in Assam, in which about 70 innocent persons were done to death in cold blood, the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) is squarely responsible. But no less responsibility rests upon those who, by virtue of their vote-bank politics and acts of misgovernance, have brought this organisation into being and allowed it to develop its lethal fangs. It is they who need to be tried at the bar of history, punished and thrown in the dustbin of Indian polity; otherwise such heinous crimes would continue to be perpetrated and the country would be adding many more chapters to its blood-soaked grammar of turmoil and turbulence.
ULFA was born in 1979 in the disturbed atmosphere created by anti-immigration movement, which was primarily directed against what was perceived to be a ?de facto Indian government policy of admitting and enfranchising foreigners?.
In 1950, the issue of infiltration came up for consideration of Parliament. Its serious nature was recognised by the Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. He took speedy action and got the Immigrants Act (Expulsion from Assam), 1950 passed. But soon after Sardar Patel'sdeath in December 1950, a number of side-issues were raised with regard to the said Act. It became a dead letter and was formally repealed in 1957. This was the first major setback to the efforts to safeguard Assam'sinterest as well as security of the nation.
Consequently, infiltration from East Pakistan continued. The extent to which the security was jeopardized could be seen from the fact that during the Chinese invasion of 1962, a sizeable section of infiltrators displayed Pakistan'sflag. In view of happenings of this nature, a plan?known as Prevention of Infiltrations Plan?was formulated. The plan provided for identification of infiltrators by Tribunals on the basis of National Register of Citizens, 1951. It was vigorously implemented by the Chief Minister, B.P. Chaliha. From 1964 to 1970, 240,000 infiltrators were identified. Another 20,800 were spotted from 1967 to 1970. But then narrow political considerations came into play. A group of MLAs, led by Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, started propagating that if B.P. Chaliha continued with his campaign, the Congress party would lose Muslim votes not only in Assam but also in the rest of the country. The vote-bank politics prevailed. The plan for prevention of infiltration was virtually abandoned and Tribunals dissolved. This was another victory for the pro-infiltrators forces.
The policy of virtually enfranchising Bangladeshi infiltrators found its most brazen expression in 1979-80 when parliamentary elections were held on the basis of 1979 electoral rolls which had been highly inflated by the inclusion of Bangladeshi infiltrators. No less an authority than the Chief Election Commissioner had publicly attributed high increase of 35 per cent in the population of Assam in the period, 1961-71, to ?the influx from the neighbouring country?. Consequently, resentment amongst Assamese mounted and mass movement erupted.
Though the movement was led by All Assam Student Union, it was ULFA which injected violence in it. The 1983 State Assembly elections added fuel to the fire and the period, 1980-85, saw some of the most brutal incidents, such as the infamous massacres of Nillie and Gohpur. Tragically even during this period of bloody turmoil, there was a marked reluctance on part of the ruling party at the Centre to give up its narrow political consideration of keeping a vote-bank intact. On the other hand, it proceeded to provide a stronger legal protection to those who were suspected to be ?illegal aliens?. In 1983, the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act was passed. The new law was so designed that it made the task of identification and deportation of ?aliens? extremely difficult.
Following the Assam Accord (1985), fresh elections to the State Assembly were held. This brought, Assam Gana Parishad, the political outfit of AASU, to power. Peace seemed to have returned to the state. But the AGP ministry turned out a highly disappointing performance. Its worst failure was in detecting and deporting illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators. It neither effectively pressurised the union government to amend or repeal the IMDT Act nor took energetic action to achieve whatever could be achieved within the limitations imposed by the said Act. Out of an estimated three million infiltrators, not more than 500 were deported during the regime of AGP (December 1985-November 1990). Clearly, the Parishad proved as unprincipled as other parties in sacrificing national interests at the altar of the vote-bank politics.
The attitude of the Union government was still more deplorable. It proved insincere in implementing the Assam Accord. Its petty politics made it surrender an excellent opportunity to evolve a unity of minds, adopt a coordinated approach, tackle the problem of infiltrators in its entirety and help the state government in acquiring a broader vision about Assam'splace in the Indian Union. Unpardonably, the union government went the other way. It created hurdles and even egged on the plain tribals to embarrass the state government by raising all sorts of demands, including the demand for Bodoland.
Consequently, notwithstanding all the noises that were made in the media and other fora, infiltration of Bangladeshis into Assam continued. During the period 1971-91, the population of Assam increased at the rate of 52.44 per cent as compared to the all-India rate of increase of 48.24 per cent. But more revealing than the general increase was the increase in the population of certain areas. Between two revisions of 1994 and 1997, a three-year gap, there was more than 30 per cent increase in 17 Assembly constituencies and more than 20 per cent increase in 40 Assembly constituencies. The all-India average growth of electoral rolls over this three-year period was seven per cent, while for Assam it was as high as 16.4 per cent.
One of the unwholesome features of the Indian State in the post-independent period has been to follow hard and soft line alternatively in its attempt to solve problems of national security. In the process, it has been falling in between the two stools. Both the Army operations?Bajrang and Rhino?were called off halfway. The Saikia ministry even released about 400 hard-core militants, including those involved in heinous crime and whose arrests had been effectuated by the armed forces at heavy cost of men and material.
A scheme was also put in operation under which ULFA militants who surrendered could secure extensive rehabilitation benefits. While the positive aspects of the scheme were limited, its negative impacts were fundamental. An impression was created that the way to get a job or obtain loan or set up a remunerative business was not through hard and honest work but through subterfuge and subversion and even through spilling of blood of innocents. A cardinal sin was committed by the Saikia'sministry by playing with the fundamental purpose of the state and causing birth and growth of SULFA which, apart form violating the basic principles of justice and rule of law, created social tensions and administrative complications on a large scale, and prolonged the collective agony of the law-abiding citizens. To provide a line of retreat to the members of ULFA and to grant them amnesty for their past lawlessness was understandable; but to grant them special privileges was nothing short of providing incentives for committing crime and encouraging other ethnic groups in the state to resort to violence to get their demands, justified or unjustified, fulfilled. The bull, it was forgotten, could be tamed only by taking him by horns and not by letting him loose on the promise of good behaviour. (The second part would cover two judgments of Supreme Court, Bangladeshi links and ways to retrieve the current agonising conditions.)
(The writer is a former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir and a former Union Minister.)