Upending ULFA

Surprise negotiations with ULFA aside, the Indian government’s effort to contain and control insurgency in Assam is unlikely to meet the hopes and expectations that have energised the peace process.

In August, India's Ministry of Home Affairs welcomed seven top leaders of the banned United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). In a meeting with Home Minister P Chidambaram in Delhi, the ULFA delegation submitted a 'framework' for negotiations to resolve 'the issues between Assam and India'. The document calls for an honourable, meaningful and peaceful resolution of those issues. ULFA's platform of restoring Assam's sovereignty – which until recently it had regarded as non-negotiable – was now replaced by a call for 'a fresh look at the issues of sovereignty, so as to ensure that the people of Assam can assert their inalienable rights to control their land and their resources therein.' In meetings with the press, these leaders have since been speaking of constitutional change and constitutional safeguards to protect the rights and identity of the people of Assam. Press reports quoted the home minister assuring the leaders that there is no 'problem which cannot be solved within the framework of the Constitution'. The meeting has set the stage for formal peace negotiations to begin between ULFA and the Indian government.

By all indications, the rebels' delegation, led by Chairman Rajib Rajkonwar (better known by his nom de guerre, Arabinda Rajkhowa), represents the prevailing majority view of ULFA. However, the chief of ULFA's military wing, Paresh Barua, who has eluded capture and is reported to be in Burma, has not been party to the decision-making that led to the meeting at the Home Ministry. While there has been much talk about his opposition to the course chosen by Chairman Rajkonwar and his colleagues, they have downplayed speculations of a split.

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Himal Southasian