“Our struggle will continue. But it will no longer be an armed struggle; it will be a democratic one.” This is what United Liberation Front of Asom’s (ULFA) founder general secretary Anup Chetia said Friday, a day after he was released on bail from the Guwahati Central Jail.
Chetia, who was released on Thursday evening, stepped out a free man after 18 years since his arrest in Dhaka in December 1997 for illegally entering Bangladesh. Other charges against him included possessing illegal weapons and illegally holding currency notes of several countries. Handed over to India on November 11 this year, Chetia was arrested the same day under four different charges, including one slammed by the CBI.
Chetia, who Friday left for his ancestral village Jerai Chakalibhoriya in Dibrugarh district, said that now he stood for peaceful negotiations.
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“I will not run away as I had done in 1992. I will join the ongoing peace talks. This is required in view of the changing global political scenario. But our struggle for protection of the Assamese national identity will continue, this time in a democratic way,” he said before leaving for his village.
The ULFA founder general secretary also wanted Paresh Barua — now heading the anti-talk faction of the outfit from a hideout in Myanmar — to come out and join the peace process. “I hope Paresh Barua will also come. I hope he will think about it. I would have been happy had he also been beside me today,” he said, as ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, vice-chairman Pradip Gogoi and several other top pro-talk faction leaders stood by him before he drove off to upper Assam.
The ULFA leader also said that he would want to speak to Barua if the government of India permitted him to do so.
“But I don’t want to communicate with him through the media. That might create a misunderstanding,” he said.
Recalling his cousin and comrade Barua, Chetia turned emotional and said in a choked voice, “He is my cousin, and I was responsible for his joining the ULFA over three decades ago. He was then working with the Railways, and when he joined our group at my insistence, his parents gave me a piece of their mind for taking away their earning son.
After all, those days it was difficult to get a job.”
He added, “If I were not arrested in Bangladesh, then I would probably have been with Paresh Barua now. There was a time when, after my seven-year jail term was over in Bangladesh, I did not want to return to Assam. One reason was my personal security. Moreover, I thought that if I could get asylum there, our movement would take a different turn. But, a few years later, the political situation in Bangladesh had changed considerably, and so did that of Assam.
It was in June 2013 that I finally decided that the best option was to return home.”
Recalling his years in Bangladesh, Chetia said a former prime minister of that country had declared the ULFA a “revolutionary, freedom-seeking group”. “The former Bangladesh PM, during a function at the Dhaka Press Club, also extended support to our movement. This led me to believe that if that former prime minister returned to power, then I would be able to come out of prison. Moreover, there was also the possibility of getting international publicity,” Chetia said.
He also expressed his gratitude to the people of Bangladesh and said, “The people of Assam may have a negative perception about the Bangladeshi people. But the fact remains that they have a lot of respect for us. Over 80 per cent of the Bangladesh population support ULFA. I received very good treatment from lawyers, human rights activists and even jail authorities and other people while I was in jail there.”