NEW DELHI, Dec 29: In a historic deal which is expected to become a significant step towards establishing peace in Assam and other parts of the North-Eastern region, a tripartite peace deal between the Centre, the Assam government, and the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) was signed in Delhi on Friday bringing the curtains down on one of the biggest insurgent groups in the northeast region and providing a shot in the arm to the ruling BJP both at the state and the Centre.
The ULFA (Independent) faction led by Paresh Baruah, however, remains opposed to talks. The peace deal, tripartite Memorandum of Settlement, with the oldest insurgent group of Assam aims to address issues such as illegal immigration, land rights for indigenous communities, and a financial package for Assam’s development.
The ULFA pro-talks faction was represented by a 16-member delegation led by its chairperson Arabinda Rajkhowa. Terming it as a “golden day” for the people of Assam, the Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who was also present at the signing ceremony along with the Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, said the state has suffered for long due to violence by ULFA and around 10,000 people have lost their lives since 1979.
He further announced that a major development package would be given to Assam under the agreement with ULFA and assured that the accord will be implemented fully. “It is a matter of great joy for me that today is a golden day for Assam’s future. Assam has suffered from violence since a long time. Since Narendra Modi became the PM, efforts were made to shorten the gap between Delhi and Northeast. In the last five years, 9 peace and border-related agreements have been signed across Northeast, because of which peace has been established in major part of the region,” he said. He added that the ULFA has agreed to abjure violence and disband the organisation.
Shah told reporters in Delhi the Centre would ensure all the reasonable demands by ULFA were met in a time-bound manner, and ULFA as an organisation would be disbanded. “We want to assure the ULFA leadership that their trust in the Centre to ensure the success of the peace process will be honoured,” Mr Shah said, and credited Prime Minister Narendra Modi for bringing peace and stability in the northeast.
Mr Shah said the removal of the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act (AFSPA) from many areas of Assam and other northeast states is proof that insurgency is nearly extinct in the region. Assam Chief Minister who sat beside Mr Shah, said the peace deal with ULFA would solve the problem of insurgency in the region to a large extent.
Two top leaders of the Rajkhowa group have been in the National Capital since last week. The outfit’s general secretary, Anup Chetia, held talks with peace interlocutor A K Mishra on Tuesday. Along with Mishra, who is the government’s adviser on Northeast affairs, Intelligence Bureau’s Director Tapan Deka was part of the talks with the group.
During the Assembly election campaigns in Tripura, Meghalaya, and Nagaland earlier this year, the BJP had emphasised the decline in militancy and the relative peace in the Northeast since the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014. Last month, Amit Shah announced the signing of a peace agreement with the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) in Manipur, a Meitei separatist group. And, now the ULFA accord will only bolster the party’s narrative. The Modi government has signed many peace deals with insurgent groups in the northeast after they agreed to lay down arms including the one with the Manipur UNLF last month. The ULFA pro-talks group had expressed willingness for talks on several occasions but had been firm on its stand on ‘sovereignty.’
Founded on April 7, 1979, in Sivasagar, Assam, by a group of 20 youngsters, ULFA emerged with the objective of establishing an independent sovereign state for the indigenous Assamese people. The group began its armed operations in the late 1980s, led by figures such as Paresh Baruah, Arabinda Rajkhowa, and Anup Chetia. Initially perceived as a group aiding the needy and the poor, the ULFA’s tactics soon escalated to armed struggle against the Indian government.
The catalyst for ULFA’s branding as a banned terrorist organisation was the killing of Surendra Paul, a prominent tea planter and brother of Lord Swaraj Paul, in May, 1990, and the subsequent extortion and threats to tea estate owners. These events exerted international pressure on the Indian government, leading to decisive action against ULFA. The high-profile assassination led to the President’s rule being imposed in Assam; the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta-led Asom Gana Parishad government was dismissed by the Centre, the ULFA was banned, and “Operation Bajrang” was launched by the army.
A defining moment in ULFA’s history occurred on July 1, 1991, when ULFA cadres abducted 14 people, including an engineer from the erstwhile USSR. This incident, coupled with the group’s interference in the tea and oil industries – vital economic sectors in Assam – marked a significant escalation in their activities. The Indian Army then launched “Operation Rhino”. The operation was called off after ULFA agreed to talk with the government in 1992.
Following these events, ULFA’s activities intensified, including kidnappings, attacks on government officials, and targeting of security personnel. The group’s operations extended beyond Assam, with cadres reportedly receiving training in countries like China and Pakistan. The organisation’s influence was such that it ran a parallel government in Assam, challenging the authority of the state.
In later years, ULFA saw significant shifts in its operations and ideology. Following key arrests and surrenders, including the capture of vice-chairman Pradip Gogoi in 1994 and general secretary Anup Chetia in 1998, ULFA’s activities were notably impacted. The group faced internal divisions, leading to a major split in 2012 when Paresh Baruah formed the ULFA (Independent) faction, insisting on sovereignty discussions.
Despite these challenges, the pro-talk faction of ULFA, led by figures like Arabinda Rajkhowa, showed a willingness to engage in peace dialogues with the Indian government leading to the Friday’s peace treaty. The treaty includes key players from the Indian government and the ULFA leadership. The treaty aims to address issues such as illegal immigration, land rights for indigenous communities, and a financial package for Assam’s development. Notably, the ULFA (Independent) faction led by Paresh Baruah remains opposed to the talks.