Three top United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) leaders in 1990 met a British envoy at Dhaka in Bangladesh and sought the UK’s help to spearhead the arms struggle for ‘sovereign’ Assam.
According to newly declassified documents released by National Archives, the leaders of the proscribed outfit met the British diplomat days before the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta led AGP government was dissolved in 1990 and the Indian Army launched Operation Bajrang against the ULFA, London based journalist Prasun Sonwalkar stated in a report appeared on HT.
The ULFA leaders offered the British diplomat a tour of its bases in Assam.
On October 2 in 1990 three leaders of the banned outfit- -general secretary Anup Chetia alias Golap Barua), publicity secretary Sidhartha Phukan alias Sunil Nath and Iqbal — met the diplomat, David Austin, who reported the meeting to London in a note described as “fascinating”, the newspaper reported.
Austin wrote in the note to the London headquarters on October 4 that the ULFA’s “inspiration is the State of Israel. If Israel can survive surrounded by the hostile Arab world, then why not Assam surrounded by hostile Indian forces?”
He was shown photographs, including those of a training camp in the Lakhimpur district of Assam, and some of the outfit’s leaflets.
The photographs included one of its commanders-in-chief, Paresh Barua, standing at the China border with a Chinese army liaison officer.
“The three men asked for help/advice in four separate areas: UK support in publicising the ULFA’s activities and aims; advice on whether the ULFA would be able to set up an office in the UK; an introduction to other Western diplomatic missions in Dhaka; and how to get in contact with authorities in Israel who may be able to help them,” the newspaper quoted Austin as saying.
He added that the ULFA’s propaganda effort was a “new one” and that they were able to “approach foreign diplomatic missions in Bangladesh without the possibility of RAW intervening – something it is unable to do in New Delhi”.
Austin, however, refused to accept the offer to visit the camps.
On November 5, diplomat D D W Martin at the British high commission in New Delhi described Austin’s note as “fascinating”, and wrote to the foreign office, “They have obviously now decided to target western diplomats.”
“That they should do so tends to corroborate the periodic press allegations that the ULFA can operate with impunity in Bangladesh, perhaps even with the tacit complicity of the authorities,” he added.
According to Martin, the China link mentioned in Austin’s note was “new and interesting”.
He wrote, “I have only heard it mentioned before by a Congress-I MLA in Assam, who alleged that the Indian Intelligence Services knew all about the Chinese involvement, but were keeping quiet for fear of damaging the process of rapprochement between India and China.”
“During their meeting with David Austin, the ULFA were understandably silent about their activities against the tea companies in Assam. But it seems extraordinary that the organisation should make an approach to us on the political level, while at the same time, threatening our commercial interests in Assam,” Martin added.
The diplomatic letters were sent to London at a time when the ULFA’s activities had spread much fear in Assam, dominating public discourse.
On Austin, seeking advice on whether he should hold further meetings with the ULFA functionaries, Martin wrote that no such meetings should be held.
Martin wrote, “The ULFA is a militant organisation pursuing violent means to subvert the established order in Assam. By pressurising tea companies, it also threatens British interests. Contacts with the ULFA would therefore be hard to explain to the Government of India.”
He further stated that in the late 1980s and 1990, as the publicity secretary, Phukan had set up a “sophisticated PR machine”, which was then focused on the Indian press, with journalists granted exclusive interviews with ULFA leaders.