The outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) on Friday scored some brownie points by ensuring a total shutdown during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to his ‘adopted home’ state.
Singh hit back, albeit subtly, indicating New Delhi has begun a process of strangulating Northeast insurgent groups by strengthening ties with neighbours such as Bangladesh and Myanmar. He also indirectly clarified a point – that his visit to inaugurate the platinum jubilee celebration of the Assam legislative assembly (ALA) on Friday had to be rescheduled because of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit and not the Ulfa.
The Prime Minister’s programme was scheduled on April 7, the day ALA was established in 1937 making it India’s second oldest legislative assembly after those in Uttar Pradesh and undivided Punjab (both were born on April 1 that year). But April 7 coincided with Ulfa’s raising day.
“I was to be here two weeks ago, but President Zardari’s visit to Delhi required me to reschedule my visit. I am sorry that I was unable to join you on April 7 which was the anniversary date for the Assam state legislature,” Singh said on Friday.
The Ulfa, security forces claim, is a spent force with the bulk of the leaders and cadres having surrendered. But the anti-talks faction of the group led by Paresh Barua retains its ‘nuisance value’, as was demonstrated by the response to its bandh call to protest the Prime Minister’s visit.
While lauding the Tarun Gogoi government for the state’s unprecedented growth and the reign of peace, Singh sent a veiled message to the Ulfa by underlining India’s warm vibes with Bangladesh and Myanmar.
“Last year, I visited Bangladesh. We were able to agree on a number of steps that will benefit both countries,” he said. “Next month I am scheduled to visit Myanmar. I will discuss with the leadership of Myanmar how we can increase opportunities for expansion of trade, economic cooperation and connectivity to the larger ASEAN region.”
He added: “There is a general realisation today that violence provides no answers and diverse groups can fulfil their aspirations only through engagement in the democratic processes. I am sure the few insurgent groups that continue to remain outside the democratic process will understand the sentiments of the people of Assam and come forward to create an atmosphere that is conducive for accelerating the pace of social and economic development.”