Updated: August 11, 2021 9:11:26 pm
The United Liberation Front of Asom – Independent (ULFA-I) Tuesday broke away from tradition and said it will not call for a bandh on Independence Day.
A statement, signed by the outfit’s ‘publicity cell’ member Rumel Asom, said ULFA-I will neither engage in an “armed protest” nor call for “any kind of bandh” this Independence Day, on account of numerous issues, including “Covid -19 pandemic, border conflicts in South-Asian region, floods and erosion and problems of unemployment.”
However, it urged people to protest the day “democratically” by unfurling the ULFA flag, wearing black badges and waving black flags, keeping Covid-19 protocols in place.
The outfit maintained its objection to the celebration of Independence Day in Assam, claiming the state was “never a part of colonial India”. Citing the second article of the Treaty of Yandaboo, signed on February 24, 1826, between the East India Company and Burma, the outfit said Assam had never been “transferred to British India”.
Since its inception in 1979, the banned outfit makes a customary call for a bandh on Republic Day (January 26) and Independence Day (August 15) every year — in line with its demand of creating a “sovereign Assam”. While a faction of the group, led by former ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, joined the peace process and came overground in 2011, the anti-talks ULFA-I, led by Paresh Baruah, has remained underground.
Earlier in May this year, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, in his first press conference after taking oath, had appealed to Baruah to leave the path of violence and return to mainstream. “Murders and kidnappings…they do not solve problems, but complicate matters,” Sarma had said, urging Baruah to join talks.
A few days after that, ULFA-I had announced a unilateral ceasefire for three months and said that it would halt all operations for the period, citing the Covid-19 pandemic.
Later, speaking at the Assembly, Sarma had said, “The government and ULFA-I, with an open mind, should create an atmosphere for talks.” Following these statements by Sarma, ULFA-I had also released Retul Saikia, the last of the three ONGC employees the outfit had abducted in April.
In Tuesday’s statement, the outfit said it was not “anti-talks”, nor was it belligerent but remained steadfast on its demand for sovereignty. “We are open to talks but the discussions have to be in line with the objective of the outfit – that is to restore sovereignty,” it said.
The outfit also demanded that the government to bring in a Constitutional amendment as a step towards the discussions. “India has amended the Constitution 104 times. Why can’t it amend it once more so as to sit for a discussion with us?” the statement asked.
In July, Sarma had said it was important to find a “middle path” for talks to happen. “ULFA-I has categorically said that it can’t discuss anything unless the Government of India wants to discuss the question of sovereignty. But as far as the Assam government and Government of India are concerned…we Constitutional representatives take oath to protect sovereignty. The minute we discuss sovereignty, it means we are violating our oath and we cannot continue as ministers,” Sarma had said, terming the two positions “irreconcilable”.
He added sovereignty is something Baruah said he has fought for his entire life. “Now to resolve that…we have to find some mid-level approach. To do that, some mediators are trying to start an unofficial dialogue between the government and the outfit. Once we find this, we can start talks,” he had said.