GUWAHATI: Eighteen years after he was arrested in Bangladesh in 1997 for entering the country using a forged passport and possessing illegal foreign currency, United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) general secretary Anup Chetia’s deportation to India is being seen as a major development vis-a-vis the outfit’s ongoing peace parleys with the Centre. Chetia was handed over to Indian authorities last week.
An ULFA founder-member, Chetia will be a key in the talks once he is out on bail. As he is ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah cousin, the Centre may use Chetia to persuade the elusive Rajesh Baruah and his ULFA (Independent) to join the dialogue.
Talks are being held with the ULFA pro-talks faction, led by its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa. In 2009, Rajkhowa, ULFA’s deputy military chief Raju Baruah and other top cadres were arrested in Bangladesh and handed over to India. Two years later, talks began with this group.
Rajesh spent years in Bangladesh before fleeing after the crackdown. He now operates from the jungles of the Myanmar-China border and heads an umbrella organisation of militant groups. He has always insisted that he will sit across the table only when Assam’s sovereignty is on the agenda.
Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi believes that “Chetia will play an important role in the peace talks” and has urged the Centre to give him adequate opportunity to play his role. The CM repeatedly called Rajnath Singh to confirm Chetia’s release, but the home minister couldn’t keep him in the loop as he was informed by the PMO late in the afternoon. The CM, who is preparing for one of the toughest Assembly polls, is keen to project his role in Chetia’s return.
“The news that he has been handed over to Indian authorities is encouraging. His deportation will help expedite the process of our talks with the government,” ULFA leader Mrinal Hazarika told The Sunday Standard.
Chetia, 58, is known for his political acumen and had contributed immensely towards building ULFA’s political wing. He was part of a delegation that met Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao in New Delhi in 1991. However, he jumped bail and disappeared, till he was arrested in Dhaka. While in jail, he had sought political asylum until withdrawing it earlier this year, which eased his deportation. In 2008, he had urged the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to grant him refugee status and political asylum in Bangladesh.
New Delhi has always wanted talks with all sections of ULFA and had vigorously pursued his case with Dhaka. “He is not someone who can be used. It depends on the attitude of the government. If it can create an atmosphere, he may play his part,” said ULFA vice-president Pradip Gogoi.
Wanted in cases of murder, kidnapping and extortion, Chetia will walk free as the government has not opposed the bail pleas of ULFA leaders for the sake of peace talks. With elections just a few months away, BJP will try to score some brownie points.
ULFA was founded on April 7, 1979, in Sivasagar by Paresh Baruah, Arabinda Rajkhowa, Chetia, Pradip Gogoi, Bhadreshwar Gohain and Budheswar Gogoi for a sovereign Assam. The Centre called it a terror group and banned it in 1990. ULFA claims its struggle is against “colonial India” and that Assam was never a part of India.
ULFA (Independent) is an armed group. Chairman is Abhijeet Asom; commander-in-chief is Paresh Baruah, who operates from jungles of Myanmar-China. ULFA (pro-talks) chairman is Rajkhowa, Raju Baruah is deputy commander-in-chief, Chitraban Hazarika is finance secretary.
■ Over 100 rebels and some senior leaders were killed during Operation All Clear, an India-Bhutan joint military offensive in 2003. Those captured are still missing.
■ In 2008, Bangladesh launched a crackdown against militants of India’s Northeast. A year later, top leaders were arrested and handed over to India.
2004: ULFA killed 18 people, mostly kids and mothers, by an IED in Dhemaji district on I-Day. In 2011, Rajkhowa publicly apologised for the incident.
1997: Rural activist Sanjoy Ghose was killed, which sparked outrage. Later Paresh Baruah said, “there was no instruction to kill Ghosh”.
1991: Russian engineer Sergei Grishchenko killed. These incidents plus mass graves in Lakhipathar and Charaiphung led to ULFA’s decline.