Much ado about Chetia
IF HE ENJOYED A PIVOTAL POSITION WHY DID RAJKHOWA NOT SEEK HIS PRESENCE WHEN THE
FORMAL PEACE TALKS BEGAN IN FEBRUARY 2011, ASKS JB LAMA
Bangladesh&’s plan to extradite Anup Chetia, alias Golap Barua — Ulfa general secretary and No. 3 in the outfit&’s hierarchy – to India before the meeting of home secretaries of the two countries on 18-19 July did not materialise. According to reports Chetia, now in Dhaka&’s “protective custody” after having served a seven-year jail term for illegally entering that country in 1997, was to have been flown to New Delhi on 16 July.
   The Centre is determined to get Chetia even if its intention is not clear. On the face of things, two options are open — put him on trial for allegedly aiding and abetting the killing of Kolkata-based tea planter Surender Paul (May 1990), murder of an NGO activist, Sanjoy Ghosh, (July 1997) for being a Research and Analysis Wing agent and an Army informer, and his alleged involvement in the killing of the wife, driver and personal security officer of former Dibrugarh Superintendent of Police AK Mallick in the late 1980s; or merely comply with Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa&’s request for Chetia&’s inclusion in the on-going peace talks which, he claims, might help in quick decision-making.
   If Chetia enjoyed such a pivotal position in the party one wonders why Rajkhowa did not raise this issue when the talks with the Centre started in February 2011. It was only during the third round that he insisted on Chetia&’s presence. That the latter has no desire to return to India was clear as early as in 2008 when he applied to the UN Human Rights Commission for asylum in a third country. This because he feared that with Sheikh Hasina Wazed coming to power he would be repatriated to India. At a time when most top Ulfa leaders “surrendered” to the Indian authorities, Chetia said he was against talks and would rather side with anti-talk self-styled commander-in-chief Paresh Barua.
   He was caught in March 1991 but then Assam chief minister Hiteswar Saikia freed him. In November the same year, the Kolkata police arrested him from a south Kolkata guesthouse. As per Chetia&’s personal diary, which the police seized, he came to Kolkata with Rs 2 crore in cash and this amount was retrieved from a Sarat Bose Road bank locker. The money was kept in the name of the wife of a person who had business interests in Assam. The official seizure list included 45 tolas in gold biscuits, another 20 tolas in gold ornaments, 50,000 Singapore dollars, a passbook and a cheque book in the name of the businessman&’s wife. Chetia also allegedly sent $ 250,000 from Delhi to Singapore. But all these criminal activities will be forgotten once he joins his colleagues in the peace talks. And this is what Rajkhowa has in mind.
   Paresh Barua, who formally split the outfit recently and calls its breakaway group Ulfa (Independent), has, in a letter to Dhaka, asked for an “honourable and decent repatriation of Chetia” and that he not be used as the bargaining tool for the release of Bangladeshi criminals now lodged in Indian jails.
   But why should Barua poke his nose in when he is on his own now? Perhaps he misses his former comrades-in-arms, as was clear from the recent reported talks he had with some of them and inquired about their welfare. A recent report says the government is trying to isolate Barua, but there are some who feel that some time, some day he will reconcile with reality (sovereignty is a pipedream) and head back home. Only then will lasting peace return to Assam.
   Public opinion is strongly in favour of the pro-talk leaders and hope for a breakthrough has brightened with the Centre, in the last round of talks in June, agreeing in principle to look into one of the Ulfa&’s primary demands of granting tribal status to the indigenous Koch-Rajbongshis, Morans, Motoks, Tai-Ahoms and Chutias.