The BJP-led NDA government may soon ink a draft agreement with the Arabinda Rajkhowa-led United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) in mid-March.
The agreement, much on the lines of the ‘Naga Peace Accord’ signed on August 3, 2015, is likely meant to bolster the BJP’s footing ahead of the assembly elections in Assam scheduled to begin next month.
“The Ulfa leadership has been invited again to New Delhi for a meeting on March 14 — close on the heels of a round of talks between an Ulfa delegation and Union home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi on February 29. There is a possibility that a draft agreement may be signed,” a source told HT.
Neither Union home minister Rajnath Singh nor his deputy Kiren Rijiju could meet the Ulfa leaders on February 29 because of their preoccupation with the Union Budget. It was also for the first time that Anup Chetia, the organisation’s general secretary who was brought in from Bangladesh recently, took part in the ongoing talks with the government.
Hailed as a landmark agreement, the August 3 accord with the NSCN (Isak-Muival faction) has also been panned by critics who, attacking the non-transparent nature of the signing, say the pact had little to offer in terms of a final resolution of the Naga issue, which is yet to be signed.
Sources told HT that the framework agreement with Ulfa may also list out already agreed points — like provision of an Upper House for the state assembly, update of the National Register for Citizens, etc.
Contentious issues like granting Scheduled Tribe status to six indigenous communities are expected to be left out as a committee headed by a joint secretary from the home ministry has already been set up to recommend the modalities for granting of the reservation like protecting the interests of existing tribes and safeguarding the political interests of the indigenous people.
The six communities are Koch Rajbongshi, Moran, Motok, Ahom, Sootea, Chutia and the Adivasi (Tea Tribes).
The draft agreement may impact the forthcoming polls as these six communities — demanding ST reservation at least for a decade — together represent more than 40% of the state’s population.
Granting ST status to these communities will render Assam a tribal majority state and would entitle it to special safeguards, which under present circumstances, might be the only way out to resolve the state’s problems arising out of reported large-scale immigration from nearby Bangladesh which has already hit Assam’s demography.
If granted reservation, the number of assembly seats reserved for tribals is expected to jump from the existing 16 to about 85-90 in the 126 seat-state assembly by way of fresh delimitation of assembly constituencies.