In the mid-1970s, soft-spoken Golap Barua, a student of Tinsukia College in upper Assam, was more interested in sports than studies. Jerai Chakalibhoriya, the village in Dibrugarh district from where he comes (as also Paresh Barua), in fact is a football nursery where almost every family has one boy playing for Assam.
In early 1978, when he went to Manipur as an official of a rural sports team, Golap Barua saw something more attractive than football and athletics. He came across some members of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and picked up the idea of floating an armed rebel group to demand a sovereign state. A few months later, he, along with his childhood friend Paresh Barua and a few others, formed the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA).
The next four to five years saw a large number of young men jump into the ULFA bandwagon, with Paresh Barua heading the armed wing and Golap Barua (who by then had assumed the name of Anup Chetia) its political wing. “While Paresh Barua almost single-handedly constituted the armed wing, it was the soft-spoken Anup Chetia who contributed immensely towards building up the political wing,” recalled Sunil Nath, who, as Siddhartha Phukan, was the central publicity secretary of the ULFA from 1988 to 1991, when he surrendered. Phukan currently runs the Bhupen Hazarika Trust in Guwahati.
A most trusted person of ULFA ideologue Bhimkanta Buragohain alias Mama (who passed away in December 2011), Chetia, who assumed yet another alias of Sunil Barua, was also instrumental in getting the tea industry to collectively pay a huge sum of money to the outfit on an annual basis. Police reports say he had placed several of his trusted persons into different contracts with the state government, so that a regular fund flow could be ensured.
First arrested during Operation Bajrang, the first army offensive after the ULFA was declared unlawful in November 1990, Chetia was part of a delegation which had gone to meet then prime minister PV Narasimha Rao in New Delhi in 1991. But he soon jumped bail and disappeared, not to be seen for long until his arrest from Mohammadpur in Dhaka for illegally entering Bangladesh and for illegally carrying foreign currency and a satellite phone. He possessed three passports at the time of his arrest.
In 1992, he also attended a human rights conference in Geneva along with Paresh Barua and a UK-based Assamese doctor, who had recently emerged as the chairman of Barua’s anti-talk ULFA faction under the name Abhijit Asom.
Interpol issued a red corner notice in Chetia’s name in 1997.
Having found a safe haven in Bangladesh around 1993, Chetia and Paresh Barua had also set up several income-generating ventures, including poultry, media consultancy, soft drinks and transport. He had also visited other countries under different passports allegedly arranged by Pakistan’s ISI. Spending 16 years in jail in Bangladesh and having seen how the ULFA split, Chetia changed his mind and decided to return home.