Another breakthrough, another milestone on the road to peace, on the way of bringing about a solution to the ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam) problem. Or so most people would like to think, about the recent ceasefire between the two bickering fractions of the group, which are named Alpha and Charlie. But in reality, this menace called ULFA cannot be brought to an end through something as simple as defection within the group or even mutiny. To bring about an understanding between the group and the government for facilitating negotiations, what needs to be done is to go back over and try to understand the factors which led to its birth.
There is the need to evaluate the reasons which made it grow stronger, the causes that sustained it and re-evaluate its strengths, which a lot of people say have been magnified in the minds of the people with reality being that it has lost much of the control that it once used to exercise.
ULFA was a radical fringe of the Assam Movement of 1979-85 which was started by the students to protest against the presence of Bengalis from neighbouring West Bengal as well as the continuous flow of illegal migrants from Bangladesh since partition into Assam. It was formed by Paresh Baruah in 1979 and its aim was declared to be the establishment of a sovereign socialist Assam through an armed struggle against the so-called colonial rulers in Delhi. At that time, secession was not the focus of this group and they were more concerned with the issue of illegal immigration. But of course, today it no longer remains the chief concern of the group except for being yet another proof given by them of how the government has failed the people by not being able to bring about an end to this issue, which had always been very explosive in the political history of Assam.
It might be hard to believe, but there was once a time in history when they actually had the good-will of the common people, they were once looked up as an organization which sought to right every wrong that had been done to the common Assamese people, an entity which could bring about the much needed change in an era where there was desperation and depression everywhere. But today, it is nothing more than a militant group which had just left the valleys of Assam blood-splattered, left women widowed, children orphaned and spilt so much of innocent blood, the blood of the young sons of this land.
The reasons why there are still so many young men and women enlisting in the cadres of this group are many. The chief reasons that created the conditions for recruitment by this group would be unemployment and under-development along with the ever-present dissatisfaction among the youths who feel that they have not been given a fair deal in the economy’s leaps towards development and rapid growth. Their grouses against the government cannot be said to be misjudged or misdirected. After all, there has been no improvement in education facilities and no real efforts by the government to create jobs. But of course, extortion of common people, kidnappings, bombing in market places or the killings of civilians have no justification; it can have no validation; no cause however noble its champions would like to believe it to be, can be condoned if it had led to such immeasurable loss to so many people totally unconnected to everything that had been going on.
There are things that common people talk about in their living rooms, ministers whisper in the corridors of power, journalists take for granted, but which had not really been loudly discussed because of lack of substantial proofs. One such issue is the evidence that many mainstream politicians have turned to this extremist group for support during elections. The group’s muscle power and the fear associated with it seem to have been put to good use by these ‘statesmen and leaders’ of the region whose election speeches ironically always include the promise to eradicate this group. There is also a foreign hand in the growth of this party as the arms and ammunitions are procured by it clandestinely from China through Myanmar and Bangladesh.
What the ULFA want is sovereignty for the state of Assam. Of course, the idea of such a demand is audacious from the viewpoint of the majority of the people. It is audacity bordering on lunacy. The reason for their insistence to discuss sovereignty may be because asking for something like that excuses them from addressing most of the ‘real’ problems that actually needs to be addressed. What the ULFA seems to be striving to do is to change the boundaries and redefine relationships between the state and the central government. But both history and time are against it. There are truths that this party needs to look at; it needs to consider the logical impossibility of ever having a demand as big as sovereignty being addressed.
The government seems to believe that bringing about an end to the ULFA crisis will be as easy as it was for them to bring about a total solution to the problem that the BLT (Bodo Liberation Tigers) once was. The BLT has now surrendered and its members have in fact, been accommodated as members of the government. The government would like to look at these two groups as being similar but in actuality, these two groups are vastly different. The BLT was formed on the basis of ethnicity but the ULFA is more territorial and its demand is not the upliftment of some ethnic group but the demand for a change in how borders and territories are defined along with a change in the concentration of power.
There are still a lot of things that the government would have to take stock of, lots of round table meetings will still need to be attended by the negotiating parties, lots of sacrifices will have to be made on both sides, and lots of setbacks and pitfalls will have to be faced. Tempers will flare, patience will run out, things might start looking grim but hopefully the foundation, that had been laid for bringing about peace will not be abandoned. This valley had already seen more bloodshed and tears than was necessary, it already had suffered a lot of pain and hurt. Let this cycle of violence and counter- violence end once and for all, let the hills of Assam echo the serenity and tranquility that had eluded it for so long.