The breakaway faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom, calling itself ULFA (Independent), is now deeply under Chinese influence. Four days before the Dalai Lama was to pass through Guwahati (April 1) on his way to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, its chairman, the faceless Abhijeet Ahom, reportedly an NRI doctor based in the UK, sent e-mails to media houses in Assam in which he told the Tibetan spiritual leader how to conduct himself when in Assam.

It said, “May I suggest if Your Holiness indeed decides to come to Assam, it is possible to turn it to an opportunity of an ambassador of peace and something meaningful to your legacy; however, the caveat we would like you to honour upon making the trip is that nothing against China will be uttered by you in private or in public, because China has always been a friendly neighbour of ours and the relationship between China and Assam is truly very deep in linguistic and cultural heritage of the two nations. We won’t tolerate India’s view to be propagated from Assam’s soil.”

This is not surprising. Ahom merely parroted his deputy Paresh Barua, who was once the trusted commander-in-chief of ULFA under Arabinda Rajkhowa.

The latter, after surrendering along with his team in December 2009, is now engaged in peace talks with the Centre. The present status of these talks is not known despite the extradition of ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia, from Bangladesh last year.

This much is certain ~ pro-talk leaders continue to enjoy state protection and hospitality. Barua’s sudden affection for China seems somewhat baffling when one recalls reports about how, in December 2003, after the Royal Bhutan Army busted rebel hideouts of the Ulfa, Bodo and Kamtapur Liberation Organisation, Rajkhowa found himself in a bind and was thinking in terms of seeking asylum in China.

But Barua reportedly advised him against this and instead told him to sue for peace with Delhi. Barua is not a man to paint himself into a corner. His cadres continue to announce their presence by occasionally detonating bombs in public places and also extorting from tea gardens.

It will be a mistake to write him off for the simple reason that lasting peace rests substantially on his change of mind. Despite being in the wilderness, Barua is known to have spoken to some of his former comrades-in-arms enquiring about their and families’ welfare.

There is no reason why the pro-talk leaders can’t act on their own and make Barua see reason to shake off the Chinese yoke.