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What Assam can expect from Anup Chetia led peace talks

Rajeev Bhattacharyya | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:15 IST

The development

  • Anup Chetia will lead talks for ULFA with Centre
  • He was recently released from jail
  • Arabinda Rajkhowa will continue to lead the outfit

More in the story

  • What does Chetia have in mind?
  • What impact the talks may have on the polls?

ULFA General Secretary Golap Baruah aka Anup Chetia, who was released from jail two weeks ago, will lead talks with the Centre.

Chetia's involvement in the peace process is expected to give a "definite direction and put an end to internal squabbles in the outfit," ULFA functionaries said.

Read: Anup Chetia is out of jail. What does that mean for India?

The decision was taken at a meeting of ULFA's executive council at Jagiroad, 40 kilometre east of Guwahati. It was also decided that Arabinda Rajkhowa will continue as the chairman and head of ULFA.

The Government of India started talks with the outfit in 2011.

Chetia was extradited from Bangladesh on 11 November last year and was soon arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation in New Delhi in connection with a murder in Golaghat. He was released from Guwahati Central Jail on 24 December after obtaining bail in all the cases registered against him.

Soon after his release, Chetia visited a host of intellectuals and senior citizens in the state for an assessment of their expectations from the ongoing talks with the government. He was also briefed by ULFA functionaries on the current condition in the designated camps, the disenchantment of the lower cadre and the gap between them and senior leaders.

A lookback

Chetia is in no hurry to clinch a deal, a source close to him said. "He won't like an agreement that would be a repetition of the 1985 accord with the All Assam Student's Union (AASU) that ended in a disaster. The next agreement could be the last chance to save Assam from illegal immigrants."

The previous accord failed to implement clauses that would have created a mechanism for detection of and foreign nationals in Assam and their deportation. Even the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which had swept to power on the basis of the accord, made an about-turn on the issue of illegal immigrants.

Also read: Anup Chetia changes track. Can he make a difference?

Chetia has minutely studied the 37-page charter of demands that the pro-talks faction of ULFA had submitted to the government. Although sources in the government said discussion on the document was almost over, the possibility of new demands being added by the general secretary cannot be ruled out.

Eye on the polls

In all likelihood, ULFA will show and discuss the agreement with senior citizens before Rajkhowa puts his signature. So, talks may continue for some more time and beyond the Assembly polls in Assam before a consensus is reached.

It is doubtful if the BJP will be able to capitalise on Chetia's extradition from Bangladesh and his release from jail. The party would have reaped political benefits had an agreement been signed ahead of the polls, as that would also have meant granting scheduled status to six indigenous communities.

A section of local BJP leaders believe that the Centre may issue an ordinance within a couple of months, accepting some of ULFA's demands, or may even come up with an 'NSCN(IM) type of framework agreement' to ensure victory in the polls.

ULFA likely to discuss any agreement with senior citizens before Rajkhowa puts his signature

But a tough contest is undoubtedly on the cards in Assam, which the BJP leadership seems to have realised. On 3 January, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh toured some parts of the Indo-Bangladesh border and declared that fencing would be completed soon. Hours later, he interacted with leading citizens in Guwhati to gauge their opinion on the situation in the state.

The BJP is also engaged in hectic negotiations to seal a pre-poll alliance with a conglomerate of nine tribal political parties, called the United People's Front, including the Bodoland Peoople's Front.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Assam on 19 January and announce a slew of development packages. Also, several ministers are likely to attend a conference in Guwahati on 23 January to discuss issues relevant for the state.

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First published: 13 January 2016, 3:25 IST
Rajeev Bhattacharyya

Rajeev is a senior journalist in Guwahati and author of 'Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India's Most Wanted Men'.