The Contours of Assam Insurgency

Dinesh Kotwal, Research Fellow

 

Abstract

Assam has unexpectedly undergone a spate of violence. There had been quite a perceptible change in the situation in the period between April and September 2000. But the ULFA spectre returned for the worst, when over 200 non-Assamese were killed between October and December 2000. The ULFA emerged from the All Assam Students Union anti-immigrant agitation that began in 1979. The rise of ULFA is linked with the coming of the AGP government to power. But in recent times ULFA suffered a sharp decline. Whatever sympathy the ULFA had till 1998 evaporated following its declaration during the Kargil war that the Pakistani infiltrators were 'freedom fighters'. Moreover, Bangladesh and Bhutan have expressed willingness to cooperate with the government of India to dislodge the militants from their territory. What is most alarming in the whole scenario is the rise of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) supported Islamic militancy in the state.

"The dastardly killing of as many as 16 innocent persons at Naoholia and Kakojan on October 22 was actually the execution of a diabolic plan of the ULFA... It is perhaps for the first time that the ULFA has acted like the Kashmiri terrorists by mowing down innocent villagers. But this in no way is justification for any rational human being in Assam to believe the ULFA that it was not behind the killings. On the contrary, one tends to believe that the ULFA is condemned to taking to this type of dastardly killings after it has been made literally to run for cover from public disdain." The Sentinel, Guwahati, October 28, 2000.

Profile

Assam, an ethnic and cultural mosaic, carrying in its embrace Ahoms, Bodos, Koch Rajbonshis, Santhalas, Mishings, Dimasas, Kukis, Hmars, Zemis (Nagas), Karbis and innumerable other smaller tribes with a significant presence of Bengalis, Biharis, Oriyas, Nepalis, is truly a mini India. And yet the tragedy is that Assam is burning, bleeding and reeling under the impact of an unprecedented scale of violence. Violation of human rights whether abductions, ransom, extortion by the ultras and other miscreants or the alleged atrocities unleashed by the state machinery continue unabated, making life difficult for the peace-loving Assamese. Unprecedented levels of violence and emergence of several insurgent groups and militant outfits now disturb a once tranquil land of hills, valleys and rivers with an abundance of natural resources. This includes the ULFA mainly in the Brahmaputra Valley, NDFB and BLT in Bodo dominated areas, MULTA in areas inhabited by immigrant Muslims and BLTF in Bengali speaking areas, Birsa Commando Force and All Santhal Cobra Force in the Santhal dominated areas within a short span of time.

The dominant militant outfit ULFA, which has become synonymous with terrorism in Assam, took shape in April 1979 at the deserted Rong Ghor premises in Sibasagar where a handful of youth assembled and pledged to liberate Assam from the rule of Delhi.1 No one cared to take that event seriously at that moment, but in course of time the ULFA became so prominent that for a brief period in early 90s it was running a parallel administration in some pockets. The agony in Assam stems not only from the failure in bringing about proper integration of the Northeastern region as a whole with the mainstream, but also from certain historical and political factors, specially those of the post-independence period. First, it was demography that contributed the most in the generation of tensions and stress. Then the hijacking of the intractable issues by the extremist forces further complicated the Assam scenario.

"It has influenced the educational, social and economic aspiration of countless Assamese, determined their central political cognizances...(it has) given rise to powerful assimilationist and nativist sentiments and backlash separatist agitation, to massive conflict over languages, education and employment policy."2 These migrants in order to protect their landholdings made false declarations that their mother-tongue was Assamese which was reflected in an erroneous representation in 1951 census figures. They then started demanding a share in the power of the state and representation in the state assembly. But, the ethnic Assamese were disinclined to share with the neo-Assamese, and so started the movement against 'the foreigners'

Aim

The paper, aims to study the growth and decline of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA)-led insurgency, which rose on a response to illegal immigration. It also focuses on the rise of ISI sponsored Islamic militancy as a counter-response to the 'son-of-soil' protagonists.

Birth of Insurgency

Insurgency in Northeast India, did not develop all of a sudden and in all parts of the region simultaneously. Failure to tackle the problem when it first originated in Nagaland in 1950, led the people to take to arms and a feeling spread in other areas also that unless forced by an armed uprising, nobody would pay heed to their craving for justice and fair play. Assam, which had long been untouched by violent rebellion and was always regarded as part of the Indian 'national mainstream', also witnessed insurgency on the issue of influx of large scale illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. Though this problem existed prior to the birth of Bangladesh, but the independence war resulted in further influx of Bengali refugees in to Assam. The influx was at its peak during the 1970-72 phase; but the Assamese people did not react at that time as India had just achieved a glorious victory over Pakistan and Bangladeshis were considered as collaborators in this victory. This relationship continued till Sheikh Mujib was in power. Once the Sheikh was annihilated in 1974, and a not so friendly regime towards India came to power, reaction against the Bangladeshis started simmering. This was the time when emergency was announced and the political energy of the Assamese people was diverted towards 'save democracy project'. Once emergency was lifted, the anti- Bangladeshi Muslim agitation started steaming and by that time Bangladesh had moved towards an Islamic order seemingly pitted against India.

As the presence of these people posed a grave threat to the cultural, political and economic life of Assam, the All Assam Students Union (AASU) for the first time raised the issue of foreigners and demanded their deportation in 1979. AASU leaders estimated the number of such foreigners or Bangladeshis as they described them at four million.3 The youths in the state felt that even though Assam was endowed with rich natural resources, it continued to be a backward state 'only because of continuing exploitation of natural resources'. Day by day, the youth became more frustrated and felt ignored and insecure. It was because of these factors that the AASU launched a large- scale agitation for detection and deportation of foreigners. The six years anti-alien stir disrupted normal life and brought the Assamese-speaking people together. The movement was total in different parts of the Brahamaputra Valley. This agitation kept the state on the boil for the next six years.

During the Assam agitation, some militant organisations like Assam Fighter's Union, and Assam People's Liberation Army came into being and they gave a 'militant' turn to the agitation. But these organisations fizzled out after the Assam Accord was signed between the stir leaders and the Central government on August 15, 1985.4 But, the idea of forming an underground organisation with the sole objective of 'liberating' Assam did not die down. The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) was founded in 1979 around the same time as the beginning of the 'Assam movement'. Its professed aim was to liberate Assam and the Assamese people from the shackles of Indian imperialism.5 ULFA put forward two arguments: Assam was not a part of India at any point of time and the Indian government has been exploiting Assams' rich and natural resources since the time of the British Raj without conferring corresponding benefits on the Assamese people.6

Growth of ULFA

What marked a turning point in the rise of ULFA were the violent Assembly elections of 1983 and the formation of the Hiteswar Saikia government. It began to mobilise public opinion through a programme of 'armed propaganda'. By holding the election, the government in effect tried to force a resolution of the controversy over electoral rolls. The roll, prepared in 1979, according to movement leaders, included the names of hundreds and thousands of illegal aliens. The leaders, as expected, called for a boycott of the elections, portraying them as Assam's 'last struggle for survival'. Not unexpectedly, the elections led to enormous violence, and the call for a boycott led to extremely low turnouts in ethnic Assamese strongholds. Nonetheless, a Congress (I) government came to power, one that ethnic Assamese public opinion regarded as illegitimate-a claim later accepted by the Rajiv Gandhi government when it agreed to the demand that the government resign to make room for fresh elections. Thus, 1983 elections and the period of the Hiteswar Saikia government that followed was the time when ULFA made the most significant inroads. Much of the support ULFA enjoyed later on was based on the sentiments spread by it that Delhi was not concerned about Assam's development. Growing unemployment and frustration among the people added fuel to the fire.

The Assam Accord was signed in 1985 and the newly formed Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) swept to power giving hope to the people of a new era of prosperity and stability. Most of the ULFA leaders had known the AGP ministers since the agitation days. The problems of AGP were compounded with the rise of ULFA, which started controlling state administration. The Chief Minister was aware about the activities of the ULFA cadres in 1988 but made no efforts to check them. Many ascribe the rise of ULFA to 'the misrule' of the AGP government (1985-90). "The AGP government is reported to have remained a passive onlooker in the face of the growing ULFA terrorism. They had political compulsion and saw ULFA as their second line of defence." 7

The deteriorating law and order situation in the state forced the Center to intervene finally and it imposed "Presidents Rule" in 1990. Subodh Kant Sahay the then Minister of State for Home of Union Government commented about the state government: "The whole state machinery is with the ULFA."8 The state government was dismissed and ULFA was banned on November 27,1990. On November 28, 1990, Operation 'Bajrang' was launched by the army. The first camp that was struck was at Lakhipatha, a short distance from both Digboi and Dibrugarh. However, the ULFA had been tipped off more than a week earlier of the possibility of an army assault.9 The camp was found deserted by the soldiers.

The elections of 1991 were completed courtesy the ULFA, despite dithering by those entrusted with the responsibility of conducting elections. Though ULFA did not sponsor any candidate as it did not believe in the Indian democracy, it's specter overshadowed campaigning in Assam. Regional parties and groups virtually competed with each other to endear themselves to the ULFA by making strident demands for autonomy. Though ULFA is the result of the AGP government's acts of omission and commission, but in the May 1991 elections, the ULFA was also covertly supported by the Congress (I) leaders with the assurance of non-interference in the election process, provided the government withdrew the Army operation. On the formation of the new government by Saikia in June 1991, amnesty was accorded to the arrested ULFA cadres. Saikia undid what the army and police had achieved. He released more than 400 imprisoned ULFA men.10 The ULFA leaders who were released under amnesty and were sent to Bangladesh to prevail upon the hardcore activists themselves never returned and instead issued a statement from Bangladesh calling for the renewal of the armed struggle.11 The end result was that the ULFA got a breather and returned as a rejuvenated outfit.

The ULFA Tentacles

ULFA's transformation into an organised insurgency group began in 1983 under the tutelage of the National Council of Nagaland (NSCN). The latter is a powerful outfit operating not only in Nagaland, but also in other parts of the Northeast. NSCN gave training to the first batch of ULFA activists in September 1984. The Kachin Independent Army (KIA) has traditionally been providing support to all the undergrounds in the Northeast. As per Lt Gen. V.K. Nayyar, ex Governor Manipur, "there have been confirmed reports of KIA and NSCN providing training and weapons to ULFA on payment.12 But it came under pressure of joint military operations of the Indian and Myanmarese Army in April- May 1995.13 The ULFA and the NSCN (K) along with People's Liberation Army (PLA), and the North-east Student' Organisation (NESO)14 have formed an umbrella organisation which calls itself the 'United Liberation Front of Seven Sisters' (ULFSS)15 with the aim of carrying out violent activities in the Northeast. Recently it has joined hands with the Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam to carry out joint operations in the areas dominated by immigrants.16 Apart from it's Burma connection, ULFA established links with the militants in Punjab and Kashmir. The ULFA chairman attended the annual session of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Population in Geneva in 1997.17 Its attempt to enter the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples' Organisation was blocked by the Government of India.18 It is also in touch with many other organisations engaged in struggles in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and other states in India. ULFA has used the influence of the NSCN (I-M) and established a number of safe houses and liaison offices in Thailand especially for arms procurement. The linkages with China are being reported in the press.19

Sipping Hilsa Soup: Bangladesh Connection

The outfit has set up a number of training camps in Bangladesh since 1990. The existence of the camps of the Northeast militant outfits are in the full knowledge of the Bangladesh local administration and the Bangladesh Rifles.20 ULFA leaders Anup Chetia and Arabinda Rajkowa also cultivated links with Islamic fundamentalist elements in Bangladesh. When the Bangladesh authorities arrested Anup Chetia in 1995, he had currency amounting to 6500 US dollars, 28,500 Indian rupees, 32,50 Bhutani rupees and 2390 Pakistani rupees.21 ULFA has started several income-generating projects in Dhaka, Mymensingh, Narshingdi, Sylhet, etc, which are run by money partly received as subscription from tea gardens in Assam and partly from donor agencies. In Dhaka, ULFA have set up a number of spurious, but profitable, companies covering media consultancies, soft drink manufacturing units, hotels, a private clinic, motor driving schools etc. These have enabled them to live in luxury in Bangladesh. In Sylhet, ULFA has a number of grocery shops and drug stores. In Mymensingh, it owns some poultry farms while in Narshingdi, two schools were being run.22 Since the coming of Sheikh Hasina to power, the pressure is building up on ULFA to leave Bangladesh. To nullify the attempts of the Bangladesh Government, Paresh Baruah, the ULFA chief in an interview to the British Broadcasting Corporation threatened that if Bangladesh Government took an "anti- ULFA" line, Assam insurgent groups in Northeast would target the lakhs of people of "Bangladesh Origin" in Assam.23

Enemy's Enemy is a Friend: ULFA in Pakistan's Embrace

The ISI is known to have provided training to the ULFA militants especially in terrorist tactics, counter intelligence, disinformation and use of weapons. Paresh Baruah and a few others were issued passports by Pakistan for their visit to Singapore, Thailand and other countries. Through these links the ISI is able to funnel money to the ULFA. Several madrassas/mosques sponsored by the ISI in the Sylhet and Cox's Bazar areas are being utilised to cache arms procured from Thailand and Myanmar by ULFA. The Assam Assembly was informed on April 6 about the activities of the ISI and its support to the ULFA. The statement made by the state government, included a photocopy of the ULFA C-in-C, Paresh Baruah's fake passport, issued in the name of Kamaruddin Zaman Khan, obtained with the help of an official of the Pakistan High Commission in Bangladesh.24 The External Affairs Ministry confirmed that several top leaders of the outfit including its chairman, commander-in-chief have procured foreign passports through fraudulent means with the assistance of the Pakistan High Commission in Bangladesh.25

Downsizing of ULFA

The ULFA's public image has taken a severe beating in the new millennium since its formation in 1979, it is fast losing control over its ground-level activists, who seem to be disillusioned with the path of violence and militancy. The two-decades old organisation suffered a major setback on August 14, 2000 when 242 of its cadres, led by senior leader Lohit Deori laid down their arms in the presence of Assam Chief Minister at a function in Guwahati.26 "ULFA is no longer a revolutionary organisation. It has become a terrorist outfit," claimed Lohit Deori, the self-styled captain of ULFA's armed wing.27 He said that every action undertaken by ULFA was dictated by one or the other foreign agency such as the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan. The Joint Secretary (Northeast), MHA agreed with the disclosure of Deori that the ULFA C-in-C was totally in the grip of the ISI and that some amount of money collected by ULFA was also controlled by the ISI.28 Today, more and more people tend to view the outfit as terrorist and extortionist.29 The knowledge of ULFA cadres fighting alongside Pakistan and against India in the Kargil conflict alienated the outfit in the eyes of the vast majority of people of Assam.30

Going back to the August 14 surrender, it also underlined the growing level of discontent among ULFA activists, who allege that their leaders now remain cut off from the masses and have turned dictatorial. The surrender ceremony was the 15th of its kind in the State since the unified command-a three-tier formation comprising the Army, the paramilitary forces and the police-came into being.31 The most significant surrender ceremony took place on April 4 this year when 532 militants gave up arms at Rong Ghor the birthplace of ULFA.32 This year alone 832 militants, mostly belonging to ULFA, have surrendered before the security forces or the district administration. The security forces have inflicted heavy attrition on the militants. An overview of military related incidents will only reinforce this assessment:33

Incidents in Assam

Sr. Head 1997 1998 1999

1. Incidents 427 735 447

2. Extremists Killed 167 180 212

3. Extremists Arrested 587 742 812

4. SFs Killed 85 72 77

5. Arms Looted 28 125 168

6. Extremists Surrendered - 227 970

7. Civilians Killed 285 531 214

Rattled at the turn of events, the ULFA started its recruitment drive in lower Assam districts in July 2000. But it received lukewarm response from the unemployed youths who are not eager to join the outfit.34 The Assam Governor also asserted that Assam is surely coming out of the grip of insurgency and to reinforce his statement the Governor highlighted that the ULFA's raising day on April 7, 2000 witnessed the common people openly coming out with peace rallies all over the state for the first time. Even the newspapers carried editorials condemning the ULFA for its violence, claiming that the people were now totally against its ideology.35 The Director General, BSF while speaking to the IAS officers course at IIC, New Delhi on October 16, 2000 stated that the ULFA has really broken up because now people are not with them.

Another setback to the ULFA came in the form of the rejection by the people of Assam of the outfit's demand for a plebiscite in Assam on the issue of sovereignty under the supervision of the UN observers. As much as 70 per cent of the state's 1.4 crore voters defied the ULFA's call for 1999 Lok Sabha poll boycott and exercised their franchise. The ULFA is avowedly opposed to the constitution and has been refusing to recognise or accept the electoral process in the country. The fact, however, remains that the majority of the people have been ignoring the outfit's call. In a number of cases, the immediate family members of top ULFA leaders have voted in the elections as also in earlier polls. In October, hundreds of followers of Assam's 15th Century Vaishanavite philosopher-saint, Sri Sankaradeva, took out a peace rally from the State's easternmost tip, Sadiya. Traversing through Assam's heartland, the peace march culminated in a rally in Dhubri in the west, along the border with Bangladesh. The rally is significant because it was organised by the Assam Satras or Vaishanavite monasteries set up by Sri Sankaradeva (there are 800 satras in the state). Family members of ULFA leaders participated in the rally. Another blow came from the Union Home Minister L. K. Advani who announced on the floor of the Parliament that "we will not discuss sovereignty and there is no point in giving illusions by inviting the militants for talks, there by giving them respectability". Thus it was made clear that ULFA would not be offered unconditional talks. This too is indicative of loss of support base among the people.36 As a result of this, what is ULFA doing to salvage the wrongs of yesteryear? More extortions, terror and retribution. The organisation today seeks meaning in methods and motives other than the ideologies by which it came into existence on April 7, 1979. The banned outfit is looking out for soft targets to spread its terror. A rather dismal picture of an organisation which was formed to bring Aikya, Biplab and Mukti to the Assamese people.37

Dragon Kingdom's Flutter: Bhutan's Initiative

For nearly five years the ULFA had unprecedented freedom to take shelter in Bhutan after killing or blowing something big in Assam. For years the Army was pleading for access to the Bhutan jungles and made it clear that unless the camps were busted the ULFA would never be under pressure. At last the Bhutan National Assembly passed a resolution at its 78th session in July 2000 favouring military action against the Northeast insurgent groups-ULFA and NDFB, to evict them from Bhutanese soil.38 This has caused another serious setback to the ULFA and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). During the three-day deliberations in the Bhutan National Assembly, it was the unanimous view of Chinis or members from all twenty regions or Dzongkhags that the people conveyed their total support to His Majesty the King and the government in dealing with the ULFA and the NDFB militants who have intruded and established camps inside Bhutan. They were of the considered opinion that the government had no choice but to resort to military action if the peaceful negotiations did not succeed.39 The King has cautioned the people of Bhutan of serious implications of military action against the ULFA militants holed up in the country. The King said that in the military action there would be many casualties among the three branches of the armed forces and other loss of Bhutanese lives.40

The Bhutanese government began a series of crucial dialogues with the top ULFA and Bodo leaders operating from the Himalayan kingdom with a view to persuade the rebels to leave the country. It was also revealed during deliberations that Lyonpo Thinely Gyamtsho, Home Minister of Bhutan held two rounds of talks with the ULFA-the first round on November 20, 1998, with the ULFA finance secretary and a local military commander, and the second round on May 7, 1999, in which the ULFA had deputed two senior leaders including commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah.41 Failing to persuade the insurgent leaders, the Bhutanese government is expected to launch military action against the insurgent camps. The Joint Secretary (Northeast), MHA disclosed at a press conference in Guwahati on September 7, 2000 that about two thousand personnel of the Royal Bhutan Army were recently given training in India in counter-insurgency. The possibility of joint operations by the Indian and Bhutanese Armies against the insurgents camping in Bhutan could not be ruled out.42 The Director General of Police of Assam said during a press conference that ULFA militants holed up in Bhutan are on the run and are "seeking alternative shelters."43 The pressure on militants is also building up in Bangladesh. In the last week of July 2000, the Bangladesh Army and Bangladesh Rifles launched a joint operation against the militants and busted many camps in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of the country. After the raid, a number of militants staying in the camps were forced to run for cover towards India following the operation. The ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah has been tied down in Bangladesh and has not visited the camps in Bhutan for over a year. The ULFA C-in-C used to visit Bangkok frequently, but after the arrest of the NSCN (I-M) general secretary Th Muivah, he has stopped going there. The pressure is also being built on the government of Bangladesh on the issue of the ULFA chief staying in Dhaka.44 On the whole, it has been a bad time for the insurgents and a definite sign of decline in the support base of insurgents.

Islamic Militancy

Though the decline of the ULFA sponsored insurgency has been analysed, which is one of the most powerful outfits in the entire Northeast, yet there is a new danger of Islamic militancy raising its head in Assam. What was an open secret for the last couple of years has now received the official stamp of confirmation as the Assam Chief Minister in the budget session of the Assam assembly this year admitted that Islamic militancy had been growing menacingly in Assam. For years the security forces have been pursuing the Islamic militants of Assam, but the appeasement of Muslims for electoral dividends have always debarred the state government from admitting to the growth of militancy. But this time the Chief Minister candidly admitted to the growth of the Islamic militant organisations in the inaccessible char (riverine) areas of Muslim-dominated districts of central and lower Assam. They thrive away from civilization and the scrutiny of the security forces. In Assam, Muslims are a sensitive subject and in each election, political parties for their own electoral gain have used them. But what is most alarming for the security as well as the intelligence agencies is that aided and abetted by the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Islamic militancy is on the rise and it is much more fundamentalist.45 A large number of youth belonging to these outfits have visited Pakistan for arms training under Harkat- ul- Mujahideen and Laskar-e-Toiba.46

At least 14 Muslim fundamentalist organisations, are now working actively in Assam.47 Their objective is reportedly two-pronged. First, to spread the fundamentalist works and prepare the immigrant Muslims for Pan-Islamisation of the entire region and second, to foment major trouble for which the Army has to be rushed in from outside the region, resulting in the reduction of armed forces presence in Jammu and Kashmir. Reports with the intelligence agencies indicate that almost all the fundamentalist organisations operating in Assam have a common cause and had approached several Muslim countries with the active connivance of the ISI.

The gravity of Islamic fundamentalism was realised when four Harkat including two from Pakistan (Md Fashi Ullah Hussain from Hyderabad, Sindh and Md Javed Wakhar from Karachi) were arrested in Guwahati in July last year.48 Of all these fundamentalist organisations, Harkat -ul- Mujahideen and the Harkat-ul-Jehad are the most dangerous as they were being directly raised by the ISI. The members of these organisations are reportedly trained by the ISI personnel at their Bangladesh camps located in Cox Bazaar and in Rongpur district. Some of these camps are scaling down their activities following the ascent of Sheikh Hasina's Awami League (AL) into power. AL has a cordial relationship with India, but the stranglehold of the fundamentalists in the corridors of power of Dhaka is still strong.

It seems there is going to be a spectral shift in the 'militancy profile of Assam'. Though ULFA is on the decline and with cooperation of Bangladesh and Bhutan against ULFA, their days are short-lived. But recent mobilisation of 'Islamic jehadis' around the world such as the on-going Palestinian problem, may give a fillip to fundamentalist mobilisation in Bangladesh as well as among Bangladeshi Muslim migrants in Assam. This will create a fertile soil for ISI for fomenting subversion and terrorism in strategic Assam. The sporadic killings of soft targets (non-combatant) too will take place, which is a compulsion for the militants to prove their existence to their masters (ISI) and cadres as well as to collect their booty.

Conclusion

The anti-insurgency operations in the state have reached a crucial stage today amid speculations that the camps of the ULFA and the NDFB would be anyday busted by joint operations of the security forces and the Bhutanese Army. The letters and documents seized from ULFA camps, makes it clear that it is feeling the pressure of the Unified Command.49 According to David Guala, "the turning point (in the war against insurgency) really comes when leaders have emerged from the population and have committed themselves on the side of counter-insurgents". Insurgency is defeated when the population is won over and its cause does not appeal to the people any more. The most important thing is to mobilise local public opinion against the insurgency. It is more powerful than bullets because it is a battle for hearts and minds of the people. This is what exactly has happened in Assam.

People want developmental measures, employment and not bloodshed, which has been continuing for over two decades in Assam. They have fully understood the cumulative disastrous effect of militancy, which is multiplying unemployment, impairing productivity, devastating infrastructure and furthering economic deprivation of the poorer sections of people. A fate they did not deserve, but for the misadventure of a set of misguided youth, kept hostage to the personal benefit of the insurgents. To set things right in the state, it is imperative on the part of the political leadership to sincerely redress the legitimate grievances of the people. The package of additional grants of Rs10,000 crore announced by the Prime Minister in January 2000 should be properly utilised for economic rejuvenation of the state, which , however, still remains as elusive as ever. The situation is delicately poised and one cannot write off the possibility of its relapsing to where it had begun two decades ago. This, therefore, calls for caution by all the parties concerned, including the government and the security forces, so that there is no weaning away of the support of the masses for them. After all, extremism is being stoked by foreign inimical forces, who are more determined to carry on the violent campaign to destabilise the Northeastern region.

Another important aspect, which needs to be looked into by the Government of India, is the geographical compulsion of Bangladesh. Two- thirds of Bangladesh is a low- lying delta prone to flooding, nearly half the country being under water for several months last year. Over the years, this has led to a massive outflow of Bangladeshis into India across a porous border difficult to police. One way to counter the problem is to legalise immigration on work permit system that would ensure that the Bangladeshis return home after a fixed period. Also, a prosperous Bangladesh is in the interest of India, as it provides less number of people for fundamentalist mobilisation and less migration of economic migrants. But it needs political will.

 

NOTES

1. Sanjoy Hazarika, Strangers of the Mist, (Delhi: Penguin Books India (P) Ltd., 1994), p.168.

2. Myron Weiner, Sons of the Soil, (1978), pp.81-82.

3. Hazarika, n.1, p.143.

4. Lt General V. K. Nayar. Threat From Within ,(New Delhi: Lancer Publishers Pvt. Ltd.,1992), p.119.

5. Ibid, p.134.

6. The Telegraph, "Language of Rough Justice", December 30, 1997.

7. Gurmukh Singh, "The Militants Progress", The Sunday Times, September 28, 1997.

8. Hazarika, n.1, p.190.

9. Ibid.

10. The withdrawal of the Army gave ULFA the breathing space that it needed badly. It availed the opportunity in the preceding weeks to reestablish links with its cadres, boost the morale of its sympathisers and chalked out a new strategy to take on the state and the central governments.

11. Arobindo Rajkhowa, Anup Chetia and Pradeep Gogoi had gone to Bangladesh on the pretext of persuading Paresh Baruah and his followers to join the peace process.

12. The Sentinel, n.37, p.13.

13. During Operation Golden Bird, 50 infiltrating ULFA and PLA militants were killed and 40 were captured in the joint operation. A huge quantity of arms and ammunition was seized. See Verghese, "India's Northeast Resurgent", (New Delhi: Konark Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1997)

14. President of NESO Samujjal Bhattacharya gave a call for deployment of the Army in the Northeastern region to detect and deport the illegal migrants from Bangladesh. He claimed that along with the infiltrators, the agents of the ISI were also pouring into Assam. This shows that NESO may not be part of the ULFSS. The Assam Tribune, "Unabated Influx Continues" October 27, 2000.

15. <http://www,fas.org/irp/world/pakistan/isi/ >

16. The Assam Tribune, "ULFA- MULTA Joint Strategy", October 30, 2000.

17. North East Sun, "Geneva Hope", August 15-31, 1998, p.11.

18. Ministry of Home Affairs, Annual Report 1997-98, p.12.

19. A surrendered ULFA militant Lohit Deori disclosed that the Black House, the Chinese external intelligence was providing the outfit with arms since 1991. The Hindustan Times, "China Providing Arms to ULFA: ex- militant" August 15, 2000. The Joint Secretary (Northeast), MHA clarified on the reported links of the ULFA with China that the Government did not have any evidence of the matter. The Assam Tribune, September 8, 2000.

20. North East Sun, "Behind the BNLF Massacre" September 15-30, 2000, p.10.

21. Strategic Digest, "Bleeding Assam: The Role of ULFA", April 2000, IDSA, New Delhi, p.199.

22. North East Sun, November 15-30, 1998, p.9.

23. The Frontline, May 30, 1997.

24. The Hindu, "Mahanta Presents Proof of ISI Mischief" April 7, 2000.

25. The Assam Tribune, "Pak Embassy in Dhaka has Links with ULFA", April 21, 2000.

26. Deori had joined the militant movement in 1990 and was entrusted with the task of setting up its camps in Bhutan. The Hindustan Times, "China Providing Arms to ULFA: ex- militant", August 15, 2000.

27. In March 2000, 13 top leaders of the ULFA, including "Chief Political Commissioner" and a top- ranking member of the ULFA had surrendered. They claimed that the ULFA had emerged as a terrorist outfit devoid of its revolutionary image.

28. The Assam Tribune, September 8, 2000.

29. The Hindustan Times, "The ULFA Again", October 30, 2000.

30. The Sentinel, "Pricking the ULFA Bubble", March 26, 2000. Whatever sympathy the ULFA once enjoyed evaporated following its declaration during the Kargil war that the Pakistani infiltrators were 'freedom fighters'.

31. The first one was organised at Thakurbari on July 24, 1998. On that occasion, 51 ULFA rebels surrendered. Subsequently, there were four such major incidents- at Mariani on August 14, 1998, when 133 rebels laid down their arms; at Tamulpur on January 21,1999, when 150 ULFA rebels surrendered; at Naogaon on May 25, when 60 extremists gave up violence; and on August 16, when 178 militants surrendered at nine different locations.

32. The Hindu, "532 Millitants Surrender in Assam", April 5, 2000.

33. North East Sun, "Tackling Tripura", March 15- 31, 2000. Also see Sinha, n.13,p.26.In the last three years over 700 militants have been killed in encounters, Rupees one crore in cash recovered and nearly 2500 militants have surrendered.

34. The Sentinel, "India Imparting Training to Bhutan Army", September 26, 2000.

35. The Assam Tribune, "Insurgency coming to end in Assam :Sinha", April 24, 2000.

36. North East Sun, "Missed Opportunity" April 1-14, 2000, p.10.

37. The Sentinel, "Security Strategy for the State", March 16, 2000.

38. The Sentinel, "Mahanta Welcomes Bhutan Assembly's call for Military Action Against Ultras," July 11, 2000.

39. The Assam Tribune, "ULFA Planning to Counter the Bhutan Government's Threat ", August 22, 2000.

40. This may be indicative that the King is psychologically preparing people for the impending military action against the Assamese insurgents. The Sentinel, "Army Action against ULFA, NDFB will spell Disaster for Bhutan", October 25, 2000.

41. North East Sun, n. 69, p.9.

42. The Assam Tribune, "India Training Bhutan Army on Counter-Insurgency", September 8, 2000.

43. The Sentinel, "ULFA in Disarray", October 1, 2000.

44. The Assam Tribune, September 8, 2000.

45. Arrest of the ISI agent Qauri Salim Ahmed alias Abdul Hamid along with three others in Assam, revealed that their mission was to hand over a large quantity of RDX to the Assamese insurgents to carry out explosions on the eve of 1999 independence day celebrations. The India Today, August 23, 1999.

46. North East Sun, "Threat perceptions! Assam's concern", August 15-31, 2000, p.10.

47. The known 14 active fundamentalist organisations working in the region at present are: Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam, Muslim Liberation Tigers of Assam, Islamic Liberation Army of Assam, Student Islamic Movement Of India (SIMI)- The Director General Police, Uttar Pradesh has disclosed the role of SIMI in anti- national activities. Pointing out that time bombs exploded in the state for the first time on Independence Day eve, the plan was hatched in Aligarh in which SIMI's role has been established. The Hindustan Times, "UP DGP Hits Out at SIMI" October 15, 2000. United Muslim Liberation Front of Assam, United Reformation Protest of Assam, People's United Liberation Front, Muslim Volunteer Force, Adam Sena, Islamic Sevak Sangh, Hurkat-ul-Mujahideen and Harkat-ul-Jehed. The Hindustan Times, "Pak's Dhaka Mission has Links with ULFA: Mahanta", April 8, 2000.

48. During the last two years, the police had arrested 101 MULTA activists and 60 persons belonging to other outfits. The Hindu, "Mahanta Presents Proof of ISI Mischief", April 7, 2000. The Director General, BSF while speaking to the IAS officers course at the IIC, New Delhi on October 16, 2000 mentioned that "5 to 10 Kms of border in depth in West Bengal adjoining Bangladesh has already become a Bangladeshi Muslim dominated. This area is being exploited by the ISI for infiltration of subversive elements into India".

49. The Assam Tribune, "No Army Operation in Bhutan", September 5, 2000.