Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday said that the recent discussion with the ULFA leadership in New Delhi was a "good beginning" and gave him hope for the future of Assam and the northeast.
"I was happy to meet representatives of the ULFA recently in New Delhi. The discussion was a good beginning and has given me hope for Assam and North East," he said after presenting the Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed Memorial awards for 2008 and 2009 at the Pragjyoti ITA auditorium in Guwahati.
Singh said that he firmly believed that dialogue was the only method for fostering greater understanding and resolving vexed social, political and economic problems.
The top ULFA leadership, led by chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa had called on the prime minister on February 14 after meeting union home minister P Chidambaram and holding the preliminary round of talks with union home secretary G K Pillai on February 10.
"Assam has witnessed turbulent times in the recent past and it is to the credit of the people of the state that they have been able to successfully combat fissiparous forces," Singh said.
It goes without saying that peace and harmony are a pre-requisite for a meaningful development, he noted saying "I am happy that a number of initiatives have been taken by both the central and state governments under Tarun Gogoi towards this end."
He said that establishment of territorial/hill councils has provided a forum to address genuine needs.
"We must, however, help these councils to build capacities to ensure that they are able to fulfil their responsibilities in a manner which is responsive, purposeful, transparent and accountable," Singh said.
According to him, the Indian society has a "glorious tradition of tolerance and secularism. The country has ever been ready to accommodate newer ways of thinking and living.
"The liberal outlook that defines our multi-religious and multi-cultural society needs to be nurtured and strengthened."
Unveiling the Rs 1600-crore Guwahati Water Supply Project at the same venue, Singh hoped the project, being executed with financial assistance from Japan International Cooperation Agency, would benefit a large segment of the population of Guwahati.
He stressed on strengthening urban infrastructure expeditiously as in the next 20 years nearly half the country's population would live in urban areas.
Singh said that under the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission, the Centre had been supporting substantial investments towards development of the urban infrastructure and Guwahati has been selected as one of the mission cities.
A solid waste management had been sanctioned, besides approval given for purchase of 50 buses for urban transportation as part of JNURM.
Congratulating the winners of Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed Memorial awards -- journalist M J Akbar (for 2008) and Gandhian Hema Bharali (for 2009), he said the awards are given to those who have contributed significantly towards social harmony and national integration.
Singh lauded Akbar for his deep understanding of contemporary events coupled with an incisive analytical ability that has educated and informed people on several vexed issues of the country.
Describing Bharali's life as a selfless service to the downtrodden, he said the eminent freedom fighter was steeped in Gandhian philosophy and has been closely associated with the Bhoodan movement.
The award, instituted by Assam government, comprises a citation and an amount of Rs two lakh.