The pro-talks faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) has said it is hopeful of an “early agreement” with the government after negotiations between the two sides entered a critical phase.
“The government has strongly assured us that our issues will be resolved within the shortest possible time. We have strong reasons to believe the government is sincere in its commitment. So we are hopeful of an early agreement,” ULFA leader Arabinda Rajkhowa said on Saturday.
“The discussions focused on our agenda items which are political and structural issues involving safeguards for the indigenous people, among other things,” he told Hindustan Times a day after tripartite talks with the Assam and central governments.
The issue of granting scheduled tribe status to six communities was also discussed during the talks on Friday, Rajkhowa said.
A nine-member ULFA delegation led by Rajkhowa met Union minister Rajnath Singh and representatives of the Assam and central governments.
A top government official familiar with the talks too indicated that a breakthrough was not far away and said: “These talks are the first interaction between the ULFA leadership and the NDA government. The effort will be to pick up from where it was left by the preceding Congress-led UPA government.
“As considerable progress had been made earlier, the effort is to give it further fillip in the path to a durable solution.”
The ULFA delegation said updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) should be a priority.
They also sought a cadastral survey of Assam’s ‘char’ areas, which have long been suspected of being safe havens for illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
‘Chars’ are huge tracts of riverine grasslands on the Brahmaputra.
The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance is keen to ink an agreement with the ULFA before the assembly polls in Assam in 2016. Topping the agenda is political safeguards for the indigenous people of Assam as this is expected to pay political dividends in the elections.
There is considerable consternation in the state because of the land boundary agreement between India and Bangladesh whereby enclaves are to be exchanged between the two countries. This has created a feeling in Assam that the state has lost out.
“The BJP - a party on the ascendant in Assam —suffered a dent in its appeal because of the land boundary agreement between India and Bangladesh as many Assamese felt the state had lost out. An agreement with the ULFA will work in favour of the BJP and help it in 2016,” said Mayur Bora, a leading commentator on socio-political issues.
The BJP has been sparing no effort to expand its influence in the northeastern states, which have been earmarked as an area where the party wants to increase its support.
The pro-talks faction of the ULFA declared a truce in 2011 and subsequently began negotiations with the central government.
Another faction led by Paresh Barua, who is believed to be hiding in Myanmar, is opposed to peace talks.