if reliable reports are anything to go by, formal dialogue with ULFA (Pro-Talk)—which began in 2011 but had stalled with the end of the interlocutorship of A.B. Mathur—is, in all probability, going to experience a revival soon. By all accounts the last round of talks ended on a positive note with the organisation expressing its satisfaction about the initiatives which New Delhi has taken. Indeed, the optimism that has characterised the discussions with ULFA (Pro-Talk) notwithstanding—the author wishes to dispassionately examine the dialogue process and the basis on which a resolution can be anvilled. 

ULFA’s 12-point charter of demands was formally handed over to New Delhi on 5 August 2011. The demands were, however, only of the nature that characterised a broad parameter. These have been scraped out by ULFA (Pro-Talk) chairman, Arabinda Rajkhowa led faction of the organisation from a 37-page charter that was presented to the Pro-Talk group by Sanmilito Jatiyo Abhiborton, the civil society body that took the initiative to bring about an interface between the faction of the ULFA and the government. 

The framework of charter for negotiation according to the ULFA (Pro-Talk) and one which was presented to the government, on the face of it, are not unreasonable demands. Indeed, most well-meaning citizens of India and the meritocracy that propels the nation have already shown sympathy to some of the demands such as prevention of illegal migration from Bangladesh and correct redressal to the problem of floods in Assam. Demands such as constitutional reforms may not be acceptable to New Delhi, but negotiations always proceed from the intractable to the acceptable by application of compromise. 

At any rate, the questions that arise at this juncture are the following:

  1. How far is New Delhi prepared to go in its accommodative posture vis-a-vis the demands that the ULFA (Pro-Talk) has made? A mature democracy that has the interest of the periphery uppermost in its mind should not shy away from grant of some rights to backward states, especially by way of rights over natural resources and land, prevention of illegal migration and proper management of floods.

There have been myriad attempts to engage the ULFA in a dialogue in the past. But the process has never quite reached a station that it is presently positioned in. Indeed, for the first time ever a solution seems to be within arm’s reach, and one that could be acceptable to the pro-talk faction of the organisation. But an important question that is also being raised is whether there is merit in talking to a group that holds the guns, or with one that has no guns! Moreover there seems to be a more mellowed ULFA chief of staff, Paresh Barua, as compared to his earlier avatar who would not be moved from his position that sovereignty of Assam must be discussed. Baruah and his faction, albeit considerably depleted as a result of desertions, have also made welcome announcements by way of three back-to-back unilateral ceasefires. These are interesting pointers which both New Delhi and Dispur should take note of and take steps to anvil a comprehensive peace process with a unified ULFA.

  1. But to return to the ULFA, New Delhi must be ready to provide certain concessions that it would actually be in its interest. Indeed, it may wish to profitably gain from the close nexus that ULFA has with NSCN, aiding thereby the vexed interstate boundary problem. It can also witness economic development, further people to people interface and thereby providing a fillip to the “Act east Policy”. It must also be caveated at this juncture that the cadres of the organisation should be rehabilitated in a manner that would make them self-reliant. Mere transfer of funds would disallow them from standing on their own feet and could witness a scenario of return to belligerence. The accent should be not to present them fishes to eat, but instead teach them how to fish and make an honourable livelihood. 
  1. New Delhi—in the nation’s security interest—must also realise that talks with any insurgent group can be held only within the ambit of the constitution and after such groups abjure violence. Dialogue with ULFA must be a comprehensive affair. Dialogue in the absence of Paresh Barua, who continues to maintain an anti-talk stance is not going to be all-inclusive.  The analogy that can be proffered at this juncture is to stress on the point as to whether “peaceful nights would prevail even if one tiger out of the nine caged is on the prowl?”
  2. The point about Paresh Baruah is particularly important since he has declared a unilateral ceasefire, but because Chinese or Pakistani interests seems to be continuing to chaperon him, and may even prevent him from returning to India even if he wishes to. A Psycho-profiling of Paresh Barua leads to the summation that he may not quite perceive a role for himself in a peaceful settlement. He prides on his “military” innards, considers himself to be a modern day Lachit Barphukan and would if the need arise go down fighting. Baruah penned a particularly interesting obituary in an Assamese daily (Asomiya Pratidin) of Vellupilai Prabhakaran, after the LTTE leader met his end in the hands of the Sri Lankan army. He hailed Prabhakaran as a fearless commander and wrote that his “martyrdom” would be an inspiration for him and his cadres in ULFA.  In any event, the fact of the matter is that only a dialogue with a united ULFA would entail a peace process that can be said to be a comprehensive affair. Such a course of action would also endear the Modi government to a populace, especially as they go to the electorate for a fresh mandate.

The Government of India would do well to take into consideration the above and take appropriate action which would usher in durable peace to Assam. It would also be able to showcase to the people of Assam that the state’s interest is uppermost in New Delhi.

(Jaideep Saikia is an internationally acclaimed conflict expert and author of several bestselling books on security and strategy)

Jaideep Saikia

Jaideep Saikia is an internationally renowned conflict analyst and author of several bestselling books on security and strategy