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Letters from India
An Ignited Assam Baffles ULFA
By Nava Thakuria
Special Correspondent
An Ignited Assam Baffles ULFA
Assam is a northeastern state of India with its capital at Dispur, a suburb of the city Guwahati. Located south of the eastern Himalayas, Assam comprises the Brahmaputra and the Barak river valleys and the Karbi Anglong and the North Cachar Hills.

Assam, for the last few weeks, is in an uprising mood. The civil societies, advocacy groups with political parties and student organizations of the Northeast Indian State have come to the streets one and all raising voices against the hundred thousand illegal Bangladeshis living in the alienated region of the country. The local media, in fact, remained full of news, analysis and editorial columns on the issue since a high court verdict observed that illegal migrants from Bangladesh would soon emerge as the king makers in Assam.

But if any organization maintained silence on the issue is none other than the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). The underground group, which is fighting New Delhi since 1979 for a 'Sovereign Socialist Asom', had not issued a single statement regarding the illegal Bangladeshis. Their stand is understood as usual that the ULFA leaders continues to demand deporting of all foreigners (read Nepali, Hindi speaking people from mainland India with Bangladeshis) from the region. They never, as their press statements argued in the past, distinguished illegal Bangladeshis with the mainland Indian population living in the State.

Assam has been ignited by a Gauhati High Court judgement weeks back against the illegal migrants from Bangladeshis and it made a significant apprehension that the State's indigenous people might be reduced to minorities in their own land very soon. The court also warned that neither the Centre nor the State government could disown their foremost responsibility of defending India's borders to prevent trespassers and ensure the security of its citizens.

It is mentionable that the All Assam Student's Union-led historic Assam Agitation was the outcome of the prolonged anxiety of indigenous Assamese against Bangladeshis living illegally in the state. The movement started in 1979 to deport millions of Bangladeshis united all social and advocacy groups. It culminated in 1984 following the signing of Assam Accord and it also paved way for emerging of the regional political party, Asom Gana Parishad.

The issue was later highlighted again by the then Assam Governor Lt. Gen. (Retd.) S.K. Sinha, while preparing a report and sending it to New Delhi, where he asserted that the unabated influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh was posing a serious national problem for India.

"The Union Home Minister of India stated in the Parliament on 6 May 1997 that there were over ten million Bangladeshi illegal migrants in the country. It was estimated that over four million of these had come into Assam and the others had gone to the remaining states of the country. So far as Assam is concerned, almost one hundred percent of these immigrants happen to be Muslims. In the absence of effective measures to check this influx, the number of illegal migrants may now have increased substantially from the figures given out in 1997," Sinha added.

With the growing public outcry on the issue, the ULFA leaders face an awkward situation. That the outfit is worried at the development, can be guessed from the unbelievable silence of the leaders. Most of the people of Assam are today convinced that some of the most senior ULFA leaders are taking shelter in Bangladesh. Not only staying there as armed cadres, they have maintained business interest in that country. It is widely believed that the ULFA military head Paresh Baruah is running a huge business avenue including hotel and travel agencies based in Dhaka. The latest media repot reveals that the outfit also possesses stakes in a major Bangladeshi newspaper group.

That the dreaded outfit was not in comfortable and commanding position was also proved with the almost peaceful celebration of Independence Day this time, even though it imposed a general strike on August 15 in Assam to prevent the observation. Unlike the last few years, there were no explosions and brutal killing by the ULFA militants, when the State was preparing for the celebration of the Day. For records, more number of common people in general and journalists in particular joined the observation. Like earlier years, journalists and conscious citizens of the city gathered at Guwahati Press Club premise to hoist the National Flag. They also took out a procession in the streets of the city.

Significantly the State witnessed a good number of community celebrations of the Day and thousands hoisted Tricolour atop their houses braving the diktat of the militants.

The outfit also faced a major crisis, when some of the active ULFA rebels under its 28th Battalion announced a ceasefire with the government. The unilateral ceasefire declared on June 24 by those rebels was initially ignored by the ULFA leaders. Because, those rebels urged the ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa with those central committee leaders of the outfit to come forward for peace talks with the government of India.

The pro-talk rebels including Mrinal Hazarika and Jiten Dutta later joined few peace rallies in upper Assam, where they tried to create public opinions for the outfit proceeding for discussions with New Delhi. The meetings enjoyed crowded response from the local people, where it had been resolved that the ULFA leaders as well New Delhi should come forward for talks for the sack of peace and property of the region.

Lastly the ULFA leaders came out heavily against those pro-talk rebels describing their activities as 'illegal.' They were also declared 'expelled' from ULFA for 'violating the constitution.' The ULFA chief Rajkhowa also appealed the people of Assam 'not to extend any cooperation to them.'

It may be mentioned that Jiten Dutta, now staying in a designated camp at Sadiya in eastern Assam with other members of ceasefire groups, was vocal against illegal Bangladeshis since earlier days and he issued occasional statements to the local newspapers demanding the deportation of those migrants. Then it was received with suspicion that Jiten Dutta, though he introduced himself as a commander, was not a real ULFA cadre. Because, it was a general observation that ULFA could never raise voice against Bangladeshis.

It may be mentioned that while ULFA was born almost three decades back, one of the initial priorities of the outfit was to deport all the foreigners, including the Bangladeshi, from Assam and Northeast India. But in the course of time, the outfit becomes so much of dependent on Bangladesh (and also Pakistan, thanks to the initiatives of ISI ) for their shelter, training and arms that it has lost its moral courage to stand against the illegal Bangladeshis in Assam and that way on the verge of loosing the base for propagating themselves as the liberator of the indigenous Assamese population.

One can guess that the uprising in Assam may or may not succeed in deporting those migrants from Bangladesh successfully, but it is for sure that the ambience would damage the support bases of ULFA, whatever left with it, to the greatest extent

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Nava Thakuria, who serves as a special correspondent for The Seoul Times, is based in Guwahati of Northeast India. He also contributes articles for many media outlets based in different parts of the glove, and can be contacted at






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