The handing over of Anup Chetia, United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) general secretary, to the Indian authorities by Bangladesh is a major achievement of the Central government with relation to Assam.
This indicates a sort of continuity in respect of India’s relations with Bangladesh, which had earlier handed over Ulfa chief Arabinda Rajkhowa during the days of the UPA government. Though there has been some delay in the handing over of Chetia, it must be admitted Bangladesh has honoured its extradition treaty with New Delhi.
Chetia was arrested in Dhaka in December 1997 on charges of forging travel documents and possessing a satellite phone, currencies of 16 foreign countries and illegal arms. He had been sentenced to imprisonment by a Bangladesh court. Though he had served his jail sentence, he was under detention there for his plea for ‘political asylum’. This will be a setback to Ulfa, which is already a divided house with one faction led by Rajkhowa keen on talks with the Indian authorities and most of its Central Executive Committee members either dead or in jail.
This will no doubt have repercussions for the Assam polls, due to take place next year. Already the Assam unit of the BJP has claimed credit for the deportation. This is no doubt getting the continuity of events wrong. After all Rajkhowa had been deported during the days of the Manmohan Singh regime, which then laid the ground for Chetia’s extradition. Also, without the participation of the Assam government this would not have been possible. Besides, since this is a matter of the country’s unity, no side should try to make political capital out of it. Assam’s history of ethnic conflicts is very old and is full of rivalries with various intersections.
Apart from confrontations between linguistic and religious communities, there are problems between plains people and those of the hills, and also between the tribals and non-tribals of the plains. Add to this the migrants, and you have an ethnic maze.
Where does this leave Ulfa? Its military leader Paresh Barua is probably now the only top leader on the loose, and is believed to be operating out of northern Myanmar, bordering China. Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi had said he preferred Barua during negotiations with Ulfa, but also stressed his government would “not wait forever”.
It is now up to Mr Gogoi and other parties to build a consensus so that the separatist body is not able to worm its way into the hearts and minds of Assam’s youth. After all whatever has happened in Assam since 1979 has been a youth phenomenon.