December 30, 2023
ULFA Peace Accord: A 44-Year Journey from Insurgency to Peace Talks
Introduction: Assamese Struggles and ULFA’s Genesis
- Assam, steeped in its distinct culture and language, witnessed a transformative shift as economic prospects drew migrants in the 19th century. This influx unsettled the indigenous populace, triggering feelings of insecurity. The Partition and subsequent refugee influx compounded these tensions. The Assam Accord of 1985 aimed to address these concerns but amidst this, the ULFA emerged in 1979, spearheaded by radical thinkers like Bhimakanta Buragohain and Arabinda Rajkhowa.
Decades of Turmoil: ULFA’s Armed Struggle
- ULFA envisioned an independent Assamese nation and engaged in a 44-year-long armed conflict marked by kidnappings, extortion, bombings, and tragic loss of lives. The state’s response was unrelenting; Operation Bajrang in 1990 led to mass arrests, imposition of President’s rule, and the invocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Paradoxically, factions allegedly supported by the government perpetrated violence, exacerbating the unrest.
- Surviving through external support, ULFA operated from camps in Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Bhutan, using them as bases for operations and refuge. Its alliances extended beyond borders, intertwining with groups in Northeast India, Myanmar, and even affiliations with international terror outfits like Al-Qaeda.
Path to Resolution: Fragmentation and Peace Initiatives
- Efforts towards peace emerged intermittently. The formation of the ‘People’s Consultative Group’ in 2005, including prominent figures, attempted mediation but faltered as ULFA resumed hostilities. Internal divisions led to splits within ULFA, with a pro-talks faction, led by Arabinda Rajkhowa, seeking dialogue with the government while Paresh Baruah vehemently opposed talks, leading to further rifts.
- In 2012, Rajkhowa’s faction presented a 12-point charter of demands to the central government, marking a crucial step. Subsequent discussions culminated in the tripartite peace agreement in April, signaling a potential breakthrough.
The Unfinished Peace: Assessing the Accord’s Impact
- While hailed as a positive stride, the peace deal’s success hinges on governmental commitment. Rajeev Bhattacharya, a ULFA expert, acknowledges the accord’s significance but questions its completeness. Baruah’s insistence on Assam’s sovereignty remains a pivotal hurdle. Even as Union Home Minister Amit Shah expresses confidence in a “complete solution,” uncertainties persist regarding the deal’s feasibility and Baruah’s stance.
Conclusion: A New Chapter in Assam’s Narrative
- The recent tripartite agreement signifies a pivotal moment in Assam’s history, steering the region towards potential peace and development. However, the accord’s effectiveness and its ability to address lingering grievances, notably Baruah’s sovereignty demand, remain subjects of scrutiny. As Assam inches towards reconciliation, the true impact of this historic agreement awaits time’s judgment.