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Jinnah's agenda included Assam

Jinnah's agenda included Assam

Author: Balbir K Punj
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: January 12, 2007

The latest brutal killings of Hindi-speaking labourers in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts of Assam has evoked the usual episodic response from the Indian establishment. Our political parties have made statements on predictable lines. The Centre, too, has followed the usual drill; it has rushed Ministers to the affected State for "on the spot assessments".

So, when the Centre announced that security measures had been beefed up, more forces were being sent and a high-level meeting had been held to review the security situation in the districts, there was a general wave of disbelief among the people of the State and the rest of the country. We have heard all this before. Every time there is an ULFA attack, the same story is repeated and the same text is read out by the Union Home Secretary, with only the locations changed.

The current spate of atrocities against people symbolic of a "cow belt dominating the Indian Union" is not an isolated act of violence by the trigger-happy deranged group, as the Indian establishment sees and deals with it. In fact, the roots of the malice in Assam are much deeper and go back to the pre-partition ambitions of Mohammed Ali Jinnah who wanted all six provinces - Punjab, Sind, the NWFP, Balochistan, Bengal and Assam - to be included in his dream Islamic state of Pakistan. Barring Assam, Jinnah managed to get full or in part the rest of the five. Today ISI, through ULFA, is working towards completing Jinnah's unfinished agenda of partition.

Assam's geographical position in the Indian Union has always been precarious. Out of its 5,800-km long border, it shares 34 km with other parts of India through "chicken's neck"; the rest it shares with Bangladesh and Bhutan. Infiltration from Bangladesh continues unabated and 'secularists' have made special laws to facilitate it. First, the IMDT Act was brought in. After the Supreme Court nullified it as ultra vires, the UPA Government brought about amendments to prevent anybody bringing charge against the illegal immigrants. This measure, too, has been struck down by the court.

Meanwhile, the damage has been done. The demographic character of the State is changing fast. The percentage of Muslims in the State, which stood at 24.68 per cent according to the 1951 Census, was recorded at 30.92 per cent in 2001. In the Bongaigaon district, their population rose by 31.84 per cent between 1991 and 2001. In the same period, Muslim population rose by 29.58 per cent at Dhubri and by 19.15 per cent at Kokrajhar. In Karimganj and Hailakandi, the growth was 58 per cent and 52 per cent respectively.

Today Pakistan's ISI-controlled ULFA does not consider Bangladeshi infiltrators, but only those coming from the rest of India, as outsiders. In its December 17 issue of Swadhinata, the banned outfit said it was "determined to uproot those illegal migrants who threatened Asom's existence, created chaotic situation in its social formation and occupied the political and economic sphere by making the indigenous people homeless". In 2003, ULFA made its agenda public when it killed 61 labourers from Bihar after a prior warning.

The ISI, through ULFA, is seeking to create a volatile situation along the Assam border with West Bengal by targeting non-Assamese Indian migrants into the North-Eastern State. It could then take advantage of the situation to infiltrate the State with its arms and ammunition. The Bangladesh Government is giving full support to ULFA in a bid to create problems for India in the sensitive North-East.

Earlier, the BJP-led NDA Government had persuaded Bhutan to evict all ULFA camps along its border. But even as the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government was getting tough with Dhaka, there was a change of regime at the Centre and the momentum was lost. Bangladesh is increasingly becoming a paw of ISI, with the extremist parties in that country backing this tie up.

The ISI strategy is obvious - encourage Muslim infiltration from Bangladesh and force Hindus to flee from Assam, thus attaining a critical mass of Muslim population in the State. This tactics has worked successfully in Jammu & Kashmir where select killings of Pandits resulted in the mass exodus of the community from the Valley.

All this is a prelude to sever Assam from the rest of India and avenge the break-up of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh. In contrast, the Indian response to this challenge is inept. For the 'secular' establishment, the entire issue boils down to Muslim votes, even if they are from foreigners. It is of little consequence to them that in the process, the integrity of the country gets compromised.

It is against this background that one has to see how the Congress Governments at the Centre and the State have been running in circles with ULFA in the tow. Only a few months back, the two Governments began a series of meetings - this time with a few self-appointed middlemen - on resuming the peace talk with ULFA. The security forces were told to hold their fire. This completely upset the plan of our forces that were planning to flush out the ULFA cadre.

A year ago, as the election to the Assam Assembly loomed large, the security forces were told not to pursue the 'encirclement' of ULFA leaders. How damaging such orders are to the morale of the forces that are battling the guerrilla militants in the most hostile jungles of Assam is anybody's guess. The repeated bursts of "peace talks" have only been eroding the morale of the security forces. How could the security forces be expected to work efficiently when every time the anti-insurgency movement picks up, the Government presses for slowing it down?

There is this widespread belief in Assam that in the last Assembly election, the Congress had a deal with ULFA. After the secessionists were licking their wounds caused by the previous NDA regime that succeeded in persuading the Government of Bhutan to take action against ULFA in that country, the UPA Government once again left the people of the North-East at the mercy of these insurgents.

In such a situation, sending some high-level or low-level teams and some more forces to Assam will not help. What is needed is a clear policy of non-appeasement of both ULFA and illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, and thus giving a clear message to the people of Assam that New Delhi cares for the regional sentiments.

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