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Switching approach

Statesman News Service |

Ignored by his former Ulfa colleagues, headed by chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa who came overground in December 2009, who are now engaged in peace talks with the Centre since February 2011, Paresh Barua, who now heads the breakaway faction of Ulfa (Independent), seems to be slowly distancing himself from the revolutionary path/insurgency and adopting terrorist tactics to achieve his objective of “Swadhin Asom”.

On the eve of Independence Day, eastern Assam witnessed five explosions, for which the Ulfa(I) claimed responsibility. According to the police some Improvised Explosive Devices were planted by kids at the instance of Barua&’s cadres. Mercifully, no one was injured.

After the I-Day celebrations were over, the Tinsukia police said the Ulfa(I) used two high school students to plant bombs in the Doom Dooma locality. The cadres lured them  with money and also promised gifts come Durga Puja.

According to police chief Mugdhajyoti Mahanta, the  teenagers were taken into custody following their confession. This has baffled the people of Assam. It is said the two got so scared that they did not plant the IEDs that were timed to go off on 15 August at a  marketplace as directed by Ulfa(I) cadres. But explosions took place in Tinsukia  district  and since these occurred in isolated  areas  not much damage was done. Security personnel defused two more IEDs and one live bomb was recovered following the  boys’ confessions.

But the Barua cadres said they had “never recruited minors in the organisation, nor will we ever do so”.  Paresh Barua, however, claimed his cadres had planted the IEDs intentionally in abandoned places as they did not want to harm civilians. He insisted that these bombs were meant to sending a message to the Indian security forces.

Hardly had the ripples of these incidents settled down,  when on  22 August  the outfit sent a video clipping to  media houses claiming that they had abducted Kuldeep Moran and demanded Rs 1 crore as ransom. The footage showed  Kuldeep with five armed and masked cadres around him in a style adopted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The 27-year-old Kuldeep, son of Kakopathar-based BJP legislator Bolin Chetia, was seen appealing to his father and Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal to get him released by arranging the ransom. Kuldeep was abducted by Ulfa(I) rebels from Nampong locality in Arunachal Pradesh&’s Changlang district, adjacent to Tinsukia district, on 1 August. Bordering Myanmar, both Ulfa(I) and the   NSCN (Khaplang) are active in the area.

The Assam government has already taken up the matter and has sought Itanagar&’s help. The police forces of both states launched joint operations to trace Kuldeep.

Many have joined in appealing for his safe release. They include the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad, All Assam Students’ Union, Assam Moran Students’ Union, Moran Sahitya Sabha, Asom Moran Sabha, Moran Jatiya Mahila Parishad and the Muttuck Yuva Chatra Sanmilan. Even Ulfa general secretary Anup Chetia, who was extradited from Bangladesh some months ago, has requested Baruah to free him.

Facing the heat, the Ulfa(I) said in a statement that Kuldeep was not abducted for any ransom, but was held for conniving with the Indian security forces in their fight against his cadres.  Barua , who was seen speaking to a number of Assamese television news channels recently, said Kuldeep would be tried under their laws.

“If he (Kuldeep) is innocent, he will be freed, otherwise he will have to face punishment. Until then he is fine in our custody,” Baruah said from an undisclosed location. He also claimed that the video footage was sent to the media houses with his consent.

All this is reminiscent of what happened during the heydays of Ulfa before the Army&’s September 1991 Operation Rhino that forced them to declare a unilateral ceasefire.

It was under Paresh Barua&’s command that a teacher-journalist (Kamala Saikia), who wrote a series of articles in the newspapers criticising their misdeeds, was killed. Some rebels went to Saikia&’s house at night and invited him for talks with their “sirs”. Saikia was not feeling well but even then he accompanied them and was later shot dead. His body was found the next morning and it bore marks of torture.

The same outfit, who want to make Assam an independent country, killed a young girl (Roshmi Borah) for spying for the Army. She used to teach the kids of a security officer. One Ulfa cadre wanted to marry her but she refused.  So she was killed, but not before being allegedly physically abused.

The Ulfa has always opposed celebrations of the Independence or Republic Days  in Assam and have threatened those who dare hoist the National Flag during these auspicious days. To enforce their diktats, the outfit even exploded bombs at Dhemaji on Independence Day in 2004, killing 13 innocent women and children. After years of silence, Paresh Baruah apologised for the carnage. This act turned many people against the outfit.

Earlier, Ulfa rebels killed an NGO activist (Sanjay Ghosh) working in Majuli river island. Even after killing him they assured his wife that he was alive. When she requested the outfit to hand him over, dead or alive, Baruah turned her down.

There are many instances of such mindless killings and cruelty, all in the name of the revolution for the greater cause of “Swadhin Asom”.

The writer is the Guwahati-based special representative of The Statesman.