Basanta Das, retired as peon from the veterinary department, is happy his son found a constable’s job in the CPRF seven years ago. “Had it been in the 1990s, he would have headed for the ULFA,” says Das, a resident of Bor-Ajara, one of hundreds of villages in Nalbari district that used to be ULFA’s hotbed until some 12 years ago.
“Nowadays you don’t get a peon’s job even after paying Rs 2 lakh as bribe. But I am happy that boys here no longer go to the ULFA. They look for jobs in the forces or security agencies outside,” Das says.
In the 1990s, almost every village had a bunch of young men who either held a gun, distributed extortion notes, or abducted hostages. Today Bor-Ajara alone has over a dozen youths in the CRPF, a few in the BSF and about 20 in private companies in Gujarat, Maharashtra and other states.
“Don’t remind us of those days, we don’t want to remember,” says Biswajit Deka of Chandkuchi who, along with Ratul Das and Pranab Das, all graduates, has set up a fish seed nursery of about 20 bighas.
Biswajit is also a local Congress worker and claims all this “change” has taken place because of the party. “During the AGP’s time they had put a ban on government recruitment. Our government has created jobs.”
These villages had once thrown up several top militant leaders. Raju Barua of Chariya for instance rose to be the ULFA’s “deputy C-in-C”, next only to Paresh Barua, while Sasha Choudhury and Mithinga Daimary were “foreign secretary” and “publicity secretary” respectively. Uddipta Hazarika (real name Rajen Sarma), the ULFA’s first “martyr”, too came from here.
“There were times when the ULFA would abduct people from Guwahati and keep them confined in houses in these villages. Several died in captivity. There were numerous incidents of human rights violation by the Army too, including alleged rape,” pointed out Dhruba Sarma, a local journalist and activist.
“Where boys mostly went to ULFA in the 1980s and 1990s, the outflow is now towards Andhra, Gujarat, Kerala and Maharashtra, and to the Army and paramilitary forces,” says Radha Kanta Kalita, principal of Dakshin Nalbari College in Bahjani, a village where the ULFA had killed then AGP minister Nagen Sarma in in 2000.
At least 50 students from Kalita’s college have joined the Army and paramilitary forces, while some have left dropped out to work in factories. “Twenty years ago, the dropouts would have gone to the ULFA because there are very few jobs available in the state.”
“Jobs are a promise parties reiterate every election. Had the development that Tarun Gogoi boasts about been real, why would our boys go to other states to become daily wagers?” says Manoram Kalita, district organising secretary of the Asom Jatiyabadi Yuva-Chatra Parishad, a radical group that gave rise to top ULFA leaders including Paresh Barua and Arabinda Rajkhowa.
There is corruption all around, says Abul Hussain, an unemployed graduate of Janigog village. “Only those close to the ruling party get benefits, and this is true with all — Congress, AGP and BJP. I know several 80-plus people who haven’t got old-age pension, while several below 70 have got.”
Nalbari covers three Lok Sabha seats. “We want a person who can voice the concerns of Assam. But we also want to see a change in New Delhi,” says Rina Talukdar, secretary of the Samanway self-help group in Nij-Bahjani village. “Our district has three MPs, but look at our economic condition,” says Rukmini Talukdar.