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HVK Archives: 'Ulfa is no longer a people's movement'

'Ulfa is no longer a people's movement' - The Asian Age

Sheela Reddy ()
25 August 1997

Title: 'Ulfa is no longer a people's movement'
Author: Sheela Reddy
Publication: The Asian Age
Date: August 25, 1997

The crux of your book appears to be that terrorism erupts wherever the
psychology of Us and Them is exploited by vested interests. In the case of
Punjab, Sikhism with its history of persecution and armed resistance to
that persecution provided an ideal breeding ground for furthering the
political and pecuniary ends of assorted politicians and religious leaders.
Do you then see any. similarity between this situation and that of the one
you are now going to in Assam?

A. You see that is the point, violence is not peculiar to just the Sikhs or
Punjab. But Assam is a different situation. I don't think even Ulfa knows
exactly what its ideology is. It does not represent a single caste identity
or even any particular tribe. It has no coherent ideology: they want to
free Assam. On the other hand, Bhindranwale's ideology, for instance, was
similar to Hitler's, based on the superiority of Sikhs over the others.

Basically what has happened in Assam after Independence is a huge influx of
"outsiders" into a self-sufficient village society, where every individual
household had at least an acre or two of household land where he grew
everything he needed: vegetables, a chicken coop, a duck pond, a fish pond,
bamboo to repair his house. Except for kerosene oil and in some cases
mustard oil, every village household grew everything they needed.

Industrialisation also deepened this process of deprivation. When you set
up a nationalised industry in a state like Assam, you import the managers,
you import the middle-level, the workers from outside, creating an oasis of
prosperity in a desert of deprivation, an ideal breeding ground for social
tensions. Unless there is a local vested interest, your industrial areas
are always likely to be disturbed, as I once pointed out to Sarat Sinha.

I remember in 1968 I had gone as SSP in Guwahati. And Guwahati had been a
disturbed district for about eight years before that, with frequent attacks
on business establishments. Eight or ten boys would enter one of these
establishments, and beat up the managers, and escape. I remember one of
these business fellows came to me, and I said, "OK, we'll provide you
protection, no problem. But why don't you change your clerks. Why don't
you employ local managers, nobody will beat them up." He said: "No, no sir
the locals don't work." This is the mindset of these managements: that the
local people are unemployable. I told them then that I can't believe that
Assam can provide its own chief minister, but cannot find clerks for its
offices.

Now of course the situation has changed-the cake is not big enough to go
around.

Q. How do you reconcile this larger point of view with what you say in your
book about the state's responsibility to give a befitting reply to each act
of terrorism?

A. There are two things involved here. One is your reaction to a situation
as a police officer, as the coercive arm of the state. And the other is
that you are analysing the situation from the outside. But you cannot
allow that analysis to dictate your response as a police officer. In fact,
this has been my quarrel with the policemen throughout my career: that,
look, you are to do policing, you are not social scientists, Yes, you
realise this is how it is, but you still have to respond to a situation as
a police officer. If there is violence, it has to be put out.

Q. There are very high expectations of you from the Assam government, which
seems to have exhausted all its options and is now turning to you for help
in restoring law and order. Do you have any strategy on how to handle the
situation in Assam based on your long familiarity with the state?

A. You don't go to a situation with a strategy. I won't even say that I am
familiar with Assam, because I left the state almost 14 years ago, in 1984.
You can't say that what we did then will work now, nor can you say that
what you did in Punjab will work in Assam. Every situation has its own
dynamics. And even what you did in Punjab in 1988, if you repeated it in
1991, it would be a waste of time. Because by that time you had developed
different responses. In any situation, you have a reactive role and a
proactive role. The reactive role remains constant all over in any
situation. But, the proactive role changes, depending on the situation. For
instance, you have to make it impossible for the terrorists to operate;
that is a policing function, you may or may not take the help of the
people. At least initially, until you win the faith of the people and they
are willing to cooperate.

Q. In Assam do you see a greater or lesser proactive role for yourself.

A. I think it will be more, much more.

Q. Because Ulfa is a people's movement?

A. No, Ulfa is no longer a people's movement, it is totally underground.

Q. How do you define a terrorist, someone who goes underground?

A. A terrorist is somebody with a weapon who goes around terrorising
people, whether he is underground or overground.

Q. And if he has the sympathy of the people?

A. If he has the sympathy of the people, he doesn't need a gun. This is a
democracy, if you have a coherent point of view, there is no way you can't
cut into the votebanks of vested interests and get elected.

Q. You have been on opposite sides of the fence when Assam chief minister
Prafulla Mahanta was a student leader Will this create any problems for you
in your new assignment?

A. No, why should it? A lot of, I should say all, of the student leaders
of that time in Assam have been my good friends during my tenure there.
Mahanta I did not know very well at that time, but I don't think there was
ever any personal animosity. The basic thing was that there was a student
agitation, and I was a police officer. I have met him many times after
that, in different contexts, the most recent being some two or three months
ago.

Q. Are you confident about your new task?

A. Of course, I am confident.

Q. How does it feel to function as the club of the state, especially when
you are so conscious that the underlying cause of violence anywhere in the
country is due to poverty and deprivation?

A. I was just thinking this morning about my first major brush with
violence in the state, in 1959 - anti-Muslim riots in parts of Sibsagar
district. Subsequently, there was a commission of inquiry which reported
that my district was the only one where an attempt was made to control the
violence that erupted across the state. After a while, came Vinoba Bhave,
he left a number of Sarvodaya workers, including Lala Achinth Ram, father
of our present Vice-President. And he stayed there in the villages, trying
to bring the people together. My job was to be the club, his job was to
bring amity. But both the jobs go hand in hand, there is no contradiction.
First you bring peace, 'and then you bring amity. You can't have one
without the other.

Q. Will you be more wary of human rights violations in your new assignment?

A. I understand there is a human rights commission in the state, and they
will do their job, and I mine. But human rights is an aspect that the
police has to now take into consideration.


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