Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bangladesh and ULFA relations: the future

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW/Paresh Baruah, Commander-in-chief, ULFA

The man who meticulously plans all of ULFA's strikes, commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah, is not one to mince words. He is said to have set up base in Myanmar's Kachin Hills bordering China's Yunnan province, running guns for the Chinese. On December 4 morning, even as the Bangladesh authorities were preparing to hand over Arabinda Rajkhowa and his family to the BSF at Dawki outpost in Meghalaya, he called up Sarbari Bhaumik to insist that there was no question of negotiations with India unless Delhi agreed to include the issue of Assam’s sovereignty on the agenda for talks.

Excerpts from the exclusive interview:
Will Arabinda Rajkhowa bow to pressure and start negotiations with India?
ULFA is always keen to start negotiations and sort out the problems through dialogue. But any such negotiations, any talks, will have to have the issue of Assam’s sovereignty on its agenda. Otherwise we are not talking. I will expect our chairman to remember that 11,000 of our fighters, young Assamese who dreamt of freedom, have laid down their lives for sovereignty. We will dishonour their souls if we quietly drop the issue of Assam’s sovereignty from any negotiations.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram has made it clear that India will only talk to ULFA if the demand for sovereignty is dropped.
We will not talk to India if the issue is not included on the agenda. That is our position as an organisation and my position as an individual and as the leader of our movement.

But there are reports in the Indian media that Rajkhowa might start talks by dropping the demand for Assam’s sovereignty.

I don’t think it is true. The Indians have turned it into a huge drama but I think our chairman will not betray the sentiments and feelings of all our freedom fighters and the freedom-loving people of Assam. At the end of the day, organisations matter, leaders don’t. If an individual leader betrays the feeling of the collective, he should be prepared to face the consequences .

The media is talking of a split in your organisation.
That is a huge nonsense. I have a very poor opinion of the Indian media, specially the so-called national media. They are jingoistic, they don’t see the reality on the ground. They write what the intelligence or the administration tells them to. There is no split in ULFA. Most of our central committee members and founders are in jail and you must have seen them telling journalists in Guwahati in no uncertain terms that there cannot be any talks without sovereignty being on the agenda and without me being a part of the negotiations. There is total consensus on this issue right across ULFA, within our central committee and from top to bottom.

So there is no split in ULFA?
I repeat, there is no split in ULFA. Some self-styled security analysts are also suggesting there is a three-way split in ULFA. They are shamelessly working for the Indian state and saying what they are told to. The reality is that from time to time, some of our people have walked out from the organisation and called it a day because they had lost hope in our struggle. Any struggle for freedom, specially against a powerful state like India, cannot be a road without thorns. We will have to face many challenges. But some of our people at times lose hope and go away. That is fine so long as they don’t become lackeys of the Indian state and work against our national movement.

If Rajkhowa walks away and starts talks with India by dropping the sovereignty demand, how would you react?
Let us not talk about ifs and buts. Our senior leaders will not betray the movement but, as I said, if someone does that, it will be at his own peril.

Why is the Bangladesh government after your group?
I really don’t understand why the new government of Bangladesh is succumbing to Indian hegemonist designs. They will pay dearly for what they are doing.

Are you threatening violent action against Bangladesh?
I am not threatening anyone. But if Bangladesh has expectations from India and are doing all this to make Delhi happy, they will be quickly belied. They will get nothing for what they are doing.

There are reports that you are seeking, and perhaps getting, Chinese help.
China is upset with India for its growing strategic relationship with the US. A major confrontation between India and China is in the offing.

But what if that happens? How does it help your cause?
Small people like us may either benefit from such a huge conflict of titans and gain our independence or get sandwiched and crushed between the two giants. It is worth taking a risk, is it not?