Just when hopes were emerging of a resolution of issues in the ongoing talks between the government and the Arabinda Rajkhowa-led faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa), the refusal of the Union tribal affairs minister to grant scheduled tribe (ST) status to six communities in Assam has put a roadblock to further progress.
"If what the minister says is true, not only will it be a massive betrayal but also a huge blunder on the part of the government," said a top Ulfa source even as protests rocked various parts of the state.
The proposed granting of ST status to six communities had been one of the moot points in the demand charter of the militant group that had started off in 1979 with the avowed aim of attaining complete independence for Assam.
On Friday, tribal affairs minister V Kishore Chandra Deo said in the Rajya Sabha that none of the communities fulfilled the five criteria required for identification as STs such as shyness of contact with others, certain primitive traits, geographical isolation, and overall backwardness.
Admitting that it was tantamount to stealing away the thunder from underneath one's feet, a top government source said the tribal affairs ministry may have only stated the 'available position as it existed'.
The Union home ministry, which is the nodal and key ministry as far as talks with Ulfa are concerned, appeared unfazed by what Deo had to say. Shambhu Singh, joint secretary (Northeast), MHA, cryptically said. "We will keep trying."