Debating India

An ULFA manoeuvre

M.S. PRABHAKARA

Thursday 15 January 2004, by PRABHAKARA*M.S.

Article paru dans Frontline, volume 21 - Issue 01, January 03 - 16, 2004.

WHAT is one to make of the reported willingness of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) to hold "negotiations" with the Government of India?

The offer, made on December 25 by Paresh Barua, head of ULFA’s military wing, in a telephonic interview given to an English daily published from Guwahati, is, as always, hedged with conditions that the organisation should know will not be acceptable even to a very weak Indian state, let alone the one that is self-confident and triumphalist at present.

ULFA is ready to hold negotiations with the Government of India, Paresh Barua said, subject to two conditions. One, that the talks will have to be over ULFA’s "demand for sovereignty" and two, that they should involve a neutral, non-Indian nation state, and not an individual, Indian or foreign, as the "facilitator". The interview made no mention of a "neutral venue", or the necessity to involve the United Nations or some such structure as "facilitator", as used to be the case in earlier ULFA offers of talks.

The summary dismissal of the offer by Union Minister of State for Home I.D. Swami is neither surprising nor relevant. What is relevant is why ULFA made the offer, its timing and circumstance, and, more important, to whom the offer is actually addressed.

The answer to `why’ is obvious. Despite the claims to the contrary which increasingly appear thin, ULFA has suffered a grave setback, if not something much worse, after the Bhutan operations. Apart from the military setback, the timing and circumstance of the offer coincide with the most dramatic demonstration of its political setback, the total failure of the propaganda machine, always one of ULFA’s strongest points. The offer was made a few hours after the Indian Army exhibited its prize catch: Bhimkanta Buragohain, one of ULFA’s founder-members.

Although the offer is ostensibly addressed to the Government of India, its more immediate audience are the people of Assam in whose name and for whose `liberation’ ULFA is supposedly fighting. ULFA knows only too well that it continues to resonate sympathy among the Assamese people, even those who are determinedly opposed to the very concept of Swadhin Asom, for reasons and linkages too complex to go into in this short article. Almost from the very moment that Bhutan began its military action and rather more explicitly when it was clear that ULFA was on the run, calls for negotiations (`political dialogue’) started coming not merely from ULFA’s front organisations and overground sympathisers, but also from established political parties such as the Congress(I), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India and, to an extent, even from the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is to this constituency that the offer to hold talks is addressed.

Finally, the received wisdom about ULFA is that Paresh Barua is uncompromisingly opposed to any talks while Arabinda Rajkhowa, its political head, has always been willing to negotiate and compromise. Indeed, at one point there were reports that the chairman had been totally sidelined by the commander-in-chief.

So it is interesting that while the head of the military wing is expressing a readiness to negotiate, Rajkhowa should address a letter to "The Chairman, Peoples Republic of China", informing him of ULFA’s intention to "enter the territory of Peoples Republic of China extra-legally", and requesting for "safe passage... and minimum temporary hospitality".

The brief letter, written on December 22 and reproduced in the website www.assamlive.com, is reproduced here, with the cautionary caveat emptor that the world of the web provides a vast variety of true and false leads. The caution is more than ever relevant in the present situation is Assam.

P.S.

To His Excellency, The Chairman, Peoples Republic of China. From The Chairman, United Liberation Front of Asom. Date: December 22, 2003. Ref: Request for safe passage.

Your Excellency, The peoples of occupied North-East region have been deserving the solemn right to signify themselves as fraternity of the same Peoples of Republic of China. The existing cultural identities and the consanguine histories are the only remaining credentials; we are embracing, after fifty years of brutal Indian occupation.

We, the United Liberation Front of Asom, Arunachal Dragon Force, National Democratic Front of Boroland and Kamatapur Liberation Organisation who have been spearheading the flame of freedom struggles against Indian occupation respectively, people of Assam, Arunachal, Boroland and Kamatapur have been taking shelter along Assam-Bhutan border to escape from the burnt of Indian military. Of late, we have come under massive military attack of Indo-Bhutan joint forces and our combatants are forced to retreat up to Sino-Bhutan border due to all out air and artillery campaigns.

In this moment, they have no other options but to enter the territory of Peoples Republic of China extra-legally to save their lives who are negotiating with sub-zero temperature and starvation without any cloth and food grain, moreover their, aspiration of freedom. We would like to request you and your peoples to permit them safe passage to your territory and minimum temporary hospitality necessary for their survival.

We would be obliged if you show your traditional kindness and great revolutionary zeal to our brothers-in-arms in this very moment of exigency.

Thank you, With all regards, Arabinda Rajkhowa. The Chairman, United Liberation Front of Asom.

SPIP | template | | Site Map | Follow-up of the site's activity RSS 2.0