A potential debate is emerged among the conscious people of Assam, whether the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) had ever invested in a Bangladesh media group. The dreaded militant group, which runs training camps in Bangladesh for quite a sometime, probably holds stakes in the Dhaka-based Daily Star group of publications. The banned armed outfit, which is fighting New Delhi for a sovereign Asom for the indigenous people since 1979, is understood to take the initiative for garnering support from the common people of Bangladesh, more particularly the civil societies there, using the space of the English daily.
The issue came alive with few articles those focusing on ULFA'sstakes in The Daily Star group. First it was Sunita Paul, a senior Indian writer, who wrote a comprehensive piece on media'slink with the evil forces in the first week of June. She made a reference to Bangladesh'sleading media group (Transcom Media), which owns The Daily Star with a Bengali daily Prothom Alo and two periodicals namely Shaptahik 2000 and Anandadhara. It also owns an FM radio called ?Aina Broadcasting Corporation?. In one of her recent articles, Sunita went on narrating the history of the Bangladesh media house, where in an opportune moment, the ULFA leader invested a huge amount of money.
ULFA, which has been identified as the most clever and cunning insurgent outfits of Northeast, extorts money from various business groups of Assam under the threat of guns. The outfit demands the money to buy arms, train its cadres in foreign territories and propagating the arm struggle in a sustained manner. As the authority often turns incompetent to deal with the extortion drive by the ULFA militants, the victims had no other options than buying peace with the money paid to the rebels.
Sunita Paul pointed out the initiative of one Latifur Rahman, who was actually the fulcrum of success for the Star group and came into contact with a powerful ULFA leader, Anup Chetia, the then General Secretary of the outfit. Presently behind bars in Dhaka'scentral jail, Anup helped Rahman financially for the business. It is to be noted that Rahman'swife was from Assam and was known to the ULFA leader Anup Chetia.
?It is learnt that a few million dollars were placed with Latifur Rahman for re-organising his collapsed business and ULFA kept a secret stake of shares in all businesses initiated by Latifur Rahman after receipt of this secret fund,? the writer explained in the article, which was published in a Bangladeshi weekly too. Rahman thus launched a company called Transcom, which began business as the sole distributor of Nestle brand milk products in Bangladesh and very soon it emerged as one of the mightiest enterprises in the country.
Meanwhile, when Dhaka'swell-respected journalist S.M Ali took the initiative of launching an English newspaper, the ULFA leader suggested Rahman to acquire shares of the newspaper group such that it could manage media influences for the separatist group. Ali was successful in placing the Daily Star at the forefront of Dhaka'sEnglish press, because of his extra-ordinary qualities and courage. But the sudden demise of Ali opened the opportunity for Rahman to swallow the newspaper. He brought Mahfuz Anam as the editor of the newspaper, who subsequently ousted the ancestors of Ali and grabbed his shares, the writer further explained.
Meanwhile, prestigious Guwahati-based English daily ?The Assam Tribune?, highlighted ULFA'sinvestment in the Bangladesh media group. Quoting, Sunita'swrite-up, the acclaimed daily reported on July 30 that the ULFA'sbusiness interest in Bangladesh was no secret, but ?what has come as a surprise is the revelation about its stakes in a leading media house in the neighbouring country?.
?Even as Indian security agencies kept up pressure on Dhaka to shut down enterprises run by ULFA, the militant outfit has quietly expanded its business portfolio in the country. New Delhi had, a couple of years ago, furnished a list of businesses suspected to be owned by ULFA, along with a series of account numbers. Dhaka told India that none of the business entities could be traced. ULFA'sbusiness interests were diverse, ranging from driving schools, nursing homes, hotels to garment export houses to deep-sea trawlers,? the Assam daily described.
Following the exposure, this writer tried to contact the editor of the Bangladesh daily repeatedly through e-mail and also over telephone, but failed. In my first attempt on August first week, the editor was said to be out of Dhaka and hence the news-editor of ?The Daily Star? responded to me. Though he denied the allegation, the gentleman was not ready to furnish any official clarification on the issue. He wanted full details of the controversy, which was sent to him immediately through e-mail with a request to clarify the newspaper'sstand on the issue, but no response arrived.
The office of the newspaper was contacted again on the third week of August and this time one senior journalist in news desk responded my call. As usual, he too overlooked my request to pursue with the editor on the issue. Third time, this writer called the Daily Star office on the fourth week of the month and finally reached to the private secretary of the editor. Though initially he responded passionately and informed that the editor was in the city, later he regretted that Anam was not immediately available for a comment. He too wanted the details of the allegation which was complied promptly.
Finally the editor Anam sent my a mail on August 26 saying that he was unable to respond to my queries earlier as he was on holiday. Appreciating my enterprise, Anam informed that he was sending a formal protest rejoinder to ?The Assam Tribune? very soon. The Guwahati based daily published the rejoinder by Anam on the front page, where he denied the report that ULFA took stakes in the Daily Star.