ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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'Lesser' Sovereignty, Genuine Autonomy

Will the government and the ULFA seize the opportunity to put an end to the bloodletting?

So many years have gone by in the armed conflict between the Indian state and the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and yet the former refuses to even admit of the n ationality question in Assam. Is it not high time the Government of India listens to the voices of a group of Assamese intellectuals who, even as they condemn the terror tactics of the ULFA, understand why a section of Assamese youth took to/have taken the path of armed rebellion?

For sometime now, and this happened even before the Bhutan campaign of the Indian army against the ULFA, both Paresh B aruah, head of the organisation’s military wing, and Arabinda Rajkhowa, head of the outfit’s political wing, have been in favour of negotiations with the government, of course, under certain conditions. They have dropped two of the three earlier conditions, the ones related to an insistence that the negotiations be held in a “third country” and under United Nations supervision, retaining only the third one, namely, that the agenda of the talks should include the question of the sovereignty of Assam. But the government was not ready to negotiate on the question of sovereignty. It was sometime later that a group of intellectuals led by the well-known Assamese novelist Indira Goswami took the initiative to form a people’s consultative group (PCG), which tried to bring the warring sides to negotiations. The government was, however, insistent that the sovereignty of Assam was non-negotiable and ultimately sidelined the PCG. Indeed, it put forward impossible conditions for talks – that the members of ULFA must first give up their arms, which, in effect, meant surrender, and that the top leaders, then underground, believed to be in Bangladesh, must be present in person at the talks. Even as the government insisted on these conditions, it did not declare a ceasefire (the temporary truce arrived at in August 2006 was broken in less than a month’s time), and it continued to sow the seeds of dividing the people of Assam by fomenting ethnic discord. The lack of trust between the two sides could only have been expected to grow, and indeed the gulf between the two widened.

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