Cracks are beginning to appear in the organisational structure of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) with the rebel group now left with just five top leaders to run the separatist campaign.
"The ULFA's core team leaders are either in jails or have surrendered. Today there are just five leaders in the field - chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah, deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah, foreign secretary Sasha Choudhury, and finance secretary-cum-general secretary in-charge Chitraban Hazarika," said Assam police intelligence chief Khagen Sharma.
The ULFA, fighting for an independent homeland in Assam since 1979, has suffered a major setback in the last three days - on Monday, 45-year-old Prabal Neog, one of the group's topmost commanders leading the crack 28 battalion, was arrested during a routine highway check in Tezpur, about 180 km north of here.
A day later, Lohit Duara, a sergeant major of the same unit, surrendered to the police in eastern Assam's Jorhat district.
"The arrest of Neog, the commander of the 28 battalion, was a massive blow and would surely weaken the ULFA's activities in eastern Assam. Neog was one of the best organisers of the outfit," Sharma told IANS.
The other top leader Duara has reportedly told police interrogators after surrendering that there was growing "disillusionment" among the ranks over the functioning of the outfit.
"Duara surrendered out of frustration and he was among the saner members within the group. He said the lack of interest for holding peace talks by the top leadership led to cracks within the group," the intelligence chief said.
The 28th battalion is ULFA's most potent fighting unit operating from bases in Myanmar as well as from within eastern Assam with the unit responsible for the massacre of nearly 150 Hindi-speaking migrant workers since last year.
"Now with the outfit suffering heavy reverses in recent days, there is no alternative left but to retaliate and carry out violent attacks to make their presence felt. We have already sent out an alert about possible strikes by the ULFA," Sharma said.
ULFA vice chairman Pradip Gogoi, founding member and ideologue Bhimakanta Buragohain, publicity chief Mithinga Daimary, assistant secretary Bolin Das and cultural secretary Pranati Deka are in different jails in Assam.
The outfit's general secretary Anup Chetia is under detention in Bangladesh after being arrested on Dec 21, 1997.
According to various estimates, the ULFA now has some 900 to 1,200 cadres - most of them fresh recruits.
"Launching attacks using hired bombers and targeting civilians cannot be a yardstick for measuring the strength of any outfit. Today, ULFA has transformed itself into a terrorist group leading to disenchantment among the rank and file," the police official said.
The ULFA was blamed for a string of attacks in January that killed about 80 people, 61 of them Hindi-speaking migrant workers.
New Delhi launched a massive military offensive against the ULFA after the strikes, killing more than 65 rebels and arresting close to 650 more cadres since January.
A fragile peace process between the central government and ULFA representatives collapsed in September last year with New Delhi accusing the rebel group of stepping up violence and extortion in Assam.