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

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Assam's Nationality Question

When will the largest surviving multinational state learn to resolve its nationality question?

Severe military repression over a long period of time does weaken one’s resolve, leading to repudiation of the very raison d’être of one’s existence in a national liberation organisation. Finally, after 30 years, an important faction of the leaders of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the one headed by Arabinda Rajkhowa, the organisation’s chairman, now out of prison on bail, initiated talks with the government on 10 February, in effect dropping the question of the sovereignty of the people of Assam from the agenda. Surely the union government views this development as a breakthrough of sorts. It seemed to be in a great haste to flag off the talks before the coming state assembly elections. But what will all the talk of autonomy – yet to be articulated in concrete terms – mean if the Indian state continues to be undemocratic as far as the nationality question is concerned? Is the government genuinely interested in reaching an honourable settlement in Assam? And with ULFA itself divided over the question of giving up its original raison d’être, is an “honourable settlement” in store for it?

Operation Bajrang and Operation Rhino led to atrocities in Assam’s countryside, including murder by the army and/or the paramilitary forces backed by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which, in effect, did away with the rule of law to allow the killing of suspects without fear of prosecution. The national media looked the other way, and it did not report to the rest of the country the genuine grievances and demands of the people of Assam, which the ULFA articulated. The Bhutan campaign of the Indian Army, and later, with the change of regime in Bangladesh, the handing over of the main leaders of the ULFA to the Indian security forces by the Sheikh Hasina regime and their incarceration seem to have broken ULFA’s resolve to continue the struggle for “national liberation”. At the same time, ULFA’s support in the larger population had ebbed after the “armed struggle” had degenerated into terror bombing of civilian groups, most notably but not only in the event on 15 August 2004 in Dhemaji when 18 people, mainly schoolchildren and their parents, were killed.

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