THE MOVING FINGER WRITES
After 32 long years of armed struggle, leading to the killings of thousands, including women and children, a 12-point charter of demands, minus sovereignty was submitted by the Arabindra Rajkhowa-led ULFA faction to the Union Government in August 2011. That was not much different from the Assam Accord that was signed between the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1985.
In September 2011, another agreement was signed by the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and the Union and State governments on Suspension of Operations (SoO). But here’s the rub: A small section led by ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah still holds the view that the demand for sovereignty is non-negotiable. Admittedly the Baruah faction is too small to be of any consequence. Still, small or not , as the Guwahati-based popular daily, The Sentinel (March 25) said, ULFA’s war for “independence” from India’s “Colonial” grip will continue, mainly because the Baruah faction seems determined to continue with its fight. This faction has apparently been amassing huge funds to pay for its armoury and the revelations made by The Sentinel are startling. According to the paper, one Drishti Rajkhowa, leader of ULFA’s 109 battalion, and one of Baruah’s most trusted lieutenants, has started calling up Block Development Officers and other Officers of the State Government for money. The 109 Battalion is apparently active in lower Assam and a few officers of the Transport and Food and Civil Supplies Departments in the districts of Dhubri and Goalpara have also received extortion demands.
The extorted moneys are collected by Baruah’s men who reportedly are staying in the camps of the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) in the Grao Hills of Meghalaya. Baruah’s men have also been demanding money from contractors engaged in development projects in Upper Assam—and this has been going on for a long time. Baruah, besides, is also being funded by the Bangladeshi Wing of the Pakistan Army’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Writes The Sentinel: Ünless the source of funding of military groups in this region are blocked, violence in the name of ‘People’s Revolution’ will continue. Initiating peace talks with just one faction of an outfit, however, sustainable it might seem, will not do. The other factions will continue to terrorise unarmed officials and contractors engaged in rural development work to extract money as they desire, while they will also be backed by hostile foreign forces”.
This is the grim reality about Assam and only a local paper can expose it. As early as October 25, 2010, the same paper had noted that “This industry of terrorism masquerading as insurgency’ has stake-holders from the mainstream, too, especially the unholy medley of politicians and bureaucrats….”
The point, said the Guwahati paper, is simple. Given the kind of unemployment scenario and the architecture of corruption that helps sustain the industry of terrorism, will it not be naïve to believe that the much-vaunted peace process is indeed the only remedy for the rebellion ill? Must we not address the root of it all?” The root of it all its supposedly gross unemployment and, more specifically, unemployability.
True, there have been stories of surrender by some militants. Thus, in January this year, as many as 1,855 militants belonging to nine groups, surrendered to the government. But that is poor consolation. What started as an insurgency has apparently turned into terrorism and this, in turn, is being exploited by Marxists who are out to exploit the tea-tribes of Assam, an example of confussion worse confounded.
In the process many of the original demands made by ULFA seem to have been marginalised. In mid-August 2011 The Sentinel ran a series of four articles presenting the problems Assam was facing. As it saw it “the Assamese people’s fear of losing their very identity and existence, after remaining dormant for some time is yet again gaining ground, thanks to the continued illegal immigrant from Bangladesh….”. Also, said the paper, “agricultural land, hills and even lakes are not being spared by the government to appease many vested interests”. And so on. Many are the complaints. These are fully exploited by militants as in North-east India where bureaucrats and governments employees have to pay regular monthly taxes to underground militant outfits. None of these facts make news in mainstream Indian media.
Again, so little is written about Maoist leadership trying to extend the Red Corridor. According to a 13-page address by Assam Governor JB Patnaik at the Conference of Governors held in Delhi last October, Assam has been included for increased Maoist activities by the CPI (Maoist). Where will it take Assam? As the Assamese media recently noted ït would be no surprise at all if the Paresh Baruah faction of the ULFA and Maoists were to recruit from among the huge and swelling army of youth extremely zealous about taking to terrorism as a career option”.
It is in this context that one has to evaluate the alleged “progress” made in the talks held in Delhi between the Union Government and the Arabinda Rajkhowa faction of ULFA. The government spokesman described the talks as “very constructive and fruitful “with “tangible progress” having been made. The focus at the talks lasting hardly an hour and a half was apparently very narrow, like safeguarding the interests of local people from illegal Bangladeshi migrants, the need to have a Legislative Upper House and reservation of seats for tribals, issues of no major importance against the larger picture of growing terrorism. It comes as no surprise if the Assamese media feels that the public is losing faith in ULFA and in some districts an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty is growing.
What, really, is the truth about Assam? Shouldn’t a Parliamentary Committee be appointed to look fully into the matter and submit a report? Is the ISI still supporting Paresh Baruah? Is there no way Paresh Baruah can be captured? Keeping the true situation in Assam out of the purview of the larger Indian public is doing disservice not only to the people of Assam, but to the country at large. For far too long has Assemes been neglected to its own detriment. This has to stop.