A free man after 12 years, outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) founder member and vice chairman Pradip Gogoi is hoping for "meaningful talks" with New Delhi to resolve the conflict in Assam.
"I am happy to come out of jail after spending long years inside prison. Now I sincerely hope there would be an atmosphere for meaningful talks to resolve the long-drawn conflict in Assam," Gogoi told IANS in an interview at his home in Sivasagar.
"If the people of Assam want us to go to Delhi for talks, we would surely go. If they want us to take to arms once again, we would do that as well," the ULFA vice chairman said.
Gogoi was released on bail on Thursday and came out of the Guwahati Central Jail where he had been lodged since his arrest in April 1998 from Kolkata by the West Bengal police. His release comes close on the heels of that of ULFA publicity secretary Mithinga Daimary, who was let off Feb 25.
He never visited his home after joining the ULFA in 1979.
Now back home in Sivasagar, about 360 km east of Assam's main city of Guwahati, he was greeted by thousands of people at the ramparts of the historic Rang Ghar, an amphitheatre of the Ahom royalty and the place where the ULFA was formed by a group of seven people April 7, 1979.
Gogoi reiterates that there cannot be talks with the government unless other jailed ULFA leaders were released.
"How can there be talks without our leaders released from jail? It is for the government to create an atmosphere for talks where everybody can come and join the process," the ULFA vice chairman said.
Six top ULFA leaders are currently in the Guwahati jail - the outfit's chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah, self-styled foreign secretary Sasha Choudhury, finance secretary Chitrabon Hazarika, cultural secretary Pranati Deka, and ULFA political ideologue Bhimkanta Buragohain.
"We are positive and would respect the sentiments of the people of Assam," Gogoi said.
The special TADA Court in Guwahati granted bail to Daimary and Gogoi - a move seen as an attempt by the government to go soft on the jailed rebel leaders to bring them for peace talks.
The government prosecutor did not oppose bail petitions moved by the legal counsel of both the ULFA leaders.