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The eerie scene of Assam - The Afternoon

Kuldip Nayar ()
5 July 1996


Title : The eerie scene of Assam - The ousted Saikia
govt. did little except to buy peace
Author : Kuldip Nayar
Publication : The Afternoon
Date : July 5, 1996

HUNDREDS of people have been robbed of their Maruti cars.
The amount of ransom varies from Rs. 2 @ to Rs. 75 lakh.
Many people have been mercilessly tortured. Hundreds of
traders have closed their shops and gone away to other
parts of -the country. Trade, commerce and industry has
been hit hard. Senior executives of central public sector
corporations are reluctant to stay. Some have already
left. Some of the tea companies are also without
supervisory staff, many of them having shifted to places
outside the state."

This is what the Governor at Guwahati reported to New
Delhi nearly six years ago. The situation is no better
today. In fact, selective killings have increased. The
Saikia Congress government, which has been ousted at the
polls, did little except to buy peace.

It distributed money and favours to the militants. It
constituted a corps of surrendered militants from among
the United liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) to fight
militancy, a pattern followed first in Punjab and then in
Kashmir. But the outfit, SULFA ('S' is for surrendered),
has turned out to be another armed group to abduct
people, to extort money and to settle personal scores.
Some other formations have also come up due to the spread
of gun culture.

Sizeable segment

ULFA is said to have a regular trained and AK-56s. In
addition, they have a large number of persons who act as
informers, Intelligence collectors, couriers, camp
followers, etc. Having imparted training to some cadres
in Burma. ULFA is using them to train others. There are
more than 50 camps where ~rig is given in broad daylight,
without fear from any authority.

The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) government, a few weeks'
old, faces the same problem of violence that it did
during its earlier stint (1985-90). Some of the militants
are colleagues from the movement days. Three ministers in
the cabinet are the ULFA supporters. This embarrasses the
government, which has even released some extremists to
give the message of a new beginning.

Yet over the years, the government finds, ULFA has
acquired more guns, more following and more influence. It
has also developed close understanding with the hostile
Khaplan faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland
(NSCN) and the Meitel extren-dsts of Manipur.

Against such an array of militants, people in Assam are
more afraid than before. They feel insecure. Editors and
academics have been threatened not to criticise ULFK A
few brave ones have refused to accept the flat. "Anyone
can be killed at any time,n says an editor. Still, he has
dared ULFA by writing. "A few more dead bodies can never
make the voice of reason or the need for lasting Peace

At a seminar in Nawgaon a few days ago, I found the AASU

yotfth leaders confused. They defended the ULFA militants
as their family members but, at the same time, they
assailed them for their penchant for violence. In no
shape does AASU support the ULFA demand for a
state of Assam. But they do not like the army to be used
against it. They favour talks between ULFA and the

I wonder if ULFA would come to the negotiating table. It
runs practically a parallel state - three on the south
bank of Brahmaputra and eight on the north bank. The
associations, traders, small and big, and even petty
government servants are summoned befor ULFA
at various-. places to negotiate the quantum of ransom.
One state governor estimated in November 1990 that the
collection was between Rs. 400 and Rs. 500 crore.

So pervasive is ULFA that it is functioning from Guwahati
itself, right under the nose of the government. A monthly
levy is collected from traders and businessmen. 'We have
to pay to many other groups as well,' an association of
young Marwari traders complained. Significantly, the NSCN
has spread its activities to Assam; north Cachar is one
of the districts where it collects money openly.

Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mohanta the pressures and
problems multiplying even before his government has had
time to settle down. No sooner did the debacle of
Congress in elections in the state became apparent than
the chief secretary, the director general of police and
two key officers disappeared, leaving the administration
and police on their own. Ethnic killings, particularly in
Kokrajhar district, began to take place. An anti-
establishment journalist, Parag Das, was murdered at noon
in Guwahati. ULFA, SULFA and others stepped up their
violence. Police, partly tainted, and partly demoralised,
stood inactive.

Ready methods

Despite its earlier promise to send the army Each to the
barracks, the AGP government had to press the force into
service. Rough and ready methods of the army have
resulted in some excesses, which ULFA is exploiting on
one hand and ordinary people are criticising on the
other. There are allegations that the army has been
operating in upper Assam without the consent or knowledge
of the state government.

This may be so. The Saikia goverrunent 'used' the~Y and
the 'black laws' it legislated to suppress the legithnate
aspirations of the A-samese. They do not want the new
government, which they have elected with a vengeance, to
follow the same path. Some do admit that the ULFA
activities have left the government with no other option.
Still there is strong opposition to the army reactivating
Operation Rhino.

'I want the army to withdraw,' says Mohanta. 'What do i
do if the Centre is not sending me. any police force?' He
has been asking for more paramilitary companies but New
Delhi has not responded so far. (Mohanta has met the
prime minister since). However, the strength of forces,
which were stationed durinICSalkia regime, has been
reduced to 75 per cent.

One of the sops that the 13-day-old BIP government at the
Centre offered to AGP for support was the undertaking to
send more paramillitary companies. But it said no because
of its ideological differences with the BJP. The BJP has

also vainly tried to play the Hindu card with AASU, which
has stuck to its policy that a foreigner is a foreigner,
whether Hindu or Muslim.

The Bangladeshi labour, however, plays an important role
in Assam's daily life. It is cheap, hard-working and
productive. There is hardly a. middle-class fam which
does not fancy employing a servant from Bangladesh. There
are. instances when the household has even withheld the
identity of a Bangladeshi servant lest he should lose
him. Manyworks come to a standstill whenever the
Bangladeshis return for Id or other festivities.

Serious law

The issue of foreigners, In any case, seems to have been
pushed into the background because of serious law and
order problem. People are worried over their safety. The
government hands are full. AASU is righting on
this'front. After an assurance by the central Election
Commission, it expects a thorough revision of electoral
rollaltq determine foreigners.

Because of the derie scene in Assam, there is also
comparatively less attention paid to the state's economic
development. The Assamese admit that many businessmen
trying to leave and no new investmerit is coming. They
are convinced that the climate of peace is important. But
they are helpless. With more and more young boys and
girlspouring from colleges into the market and with
practically no prospect of employment, there is
desperation in the air.

ULFA leaders say that they do not want violence. Nordo
@consider themself a problem, a word affixed to them.
They have genuine grievances, dry contend. Probably true,
but no grievance can be remedied at the point of guil
They should have known this by now.

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