ULFA might hammer out a lasting solution to the “Assam problem” before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, its General Secretary, Anup Chetia, has said, adding that the BJP-led government must think seriously on how to bring the Paresh Baruah faction to the negotiating table which will augment lasting peace in the state.
“We hope that the next round of talks between Ulfa and the Centre will be formal talks,” Anup Chetia alias Golap Baruah said in an exclusive interview in his office.
“We are, in fact, working to finalise the modality to ensure land rights for the indigenous people of Assam and a constitutional safeguard for the locals here. These are the two main demands we are placing before the government of India to solve the Assam problem,” said Chetia, adding that the outfit favours land rights for the indigenous people of Assam like it is in Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and other northeastern states.”
“The problem of Assam is unique. We have so many diverse ethnicities and no other state in India has a similar problem. Besides, lots of infiltration has taken place in Assam since centuries, which has compounded the problem,” said Chetia.
Asked about the faction led by Paresh Baruah, who is yet to come to the negotiating table, Chetia said that lasting peace will come only when all the ULFA factions and other militant outfits are taken on board. “The central government must take the issue seriously. People ask me if I have taken any initiative to bring Paresh Baruah to the talks. No, I have not taken any initiative in this regard so far,” he said.
“If you see all the peace accords signed by the government of India and the militant outfits of northeast India, you will realise that nothing has been executed (implemented) so far. The Mizo National front (MNF) had recently submitted a fresh memorandum to the government of India to implement the Mizo peace accord. The peace talks with the NSCN-IM have been on since 1997 but the government is yet to make public the framework agreement that has been signed. I am told that efforts are also on to bring the NSCN-K to the table. However, clarity is missing, which has complicated the issue,” said Chetia.
The majority of the ULFA leaders, including its Chairman, Arabinda Rajkhowa, who had been holed up in Bangladesh, were arrested by the authorities in 2010 and handed over to Indian authorities. Subsequently they agreed to sit for peace talks and were released on bail. However, ULFA “Commander-in-Chief” Paresh Baruah had remained in Myanmar with a few of his comrades and they are yet to respond to the government’s peace initiative.
Chetia was arrested in Bangladesh on December 21, 1997, and had languished in that country’s jails till his extradition to India in November 2015. After being released on bail, Chetia also decided to join the peace talks.
Born in January 1956 at Jerai Gaon in eastern Assam’s Tinsukia district, Chetia was one of the founder-members of the now-banned outfit in 1979. He was the one who brought Paresh Baruah to ULFA. Chetia had gone underground in the 1980s and his joining the peace talks in 2016 assumed significance as he was one of the important leaders of the outfit after Paresh Baruah.
After his release on bail, Chetia had also tendered a public apology for the mistakes ULFA had made in the past and said that he would work for the betterment of the state’s indigenous communities.
“I have also visited the families of martyrs who had laid down their lives during the struggle,” said Chetia, adding that he had also taken up steps to bridge the differences of opinion between some of the surrendered cadres and the ex-ULFA cadres who had quit the organisation in the past due to the hardships and problems they had to face.
Chetia, who has been a keen observer since his arrival in the country, said that real development has not taken place in Assam except for some new roads, and buildings. “There has not been much industrial development in Assam since we left the country. This is the reason why unemployment is still a problem,” he said.
What next? Will he take up the fight politically to achieve the goal?
“As of now I do not have any plans to join politics. However, I have been moving around in Assam since my arrival and strongly feel that regionalism has not lost ground. The erstwhile Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) government had failed regionalism but the people still have faith in regionalism,” said Chetia.