Even as Indian security forces crack down on the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), it is reportedly funding select candidates in the now deferred general elections in Bangladesh, well informed sources in Kolkata say.
The sources say that ULFA is providing money to certain candidates from a cross section of parties in the election expected to produce a stiff contest between the two main alliances led by the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and the Awami League.
"It is partially funding at least 15 candidates, besides indirectly donating to party funds of a few major parties," a source, with access to reliable information in the underground, said.
"It is not a coincidence that most of these candidates are also very close to the ISI (the Pakistani intelligence agency)," the source added.
According to reports from Bangladesh, ULFA, the most active insurgent group in northeastern India, is pumping over Rs 300 million ( nearly $6 million) in the polls.
According to Indian government sources, the self-styled commander-in-chief of ULFA, Paresh Barua, is one of the wealthiest leaders in the outfit. His personal earnings a year from business ventures in Bangladesh are staggering. The total assets of ULFA are valued at over Rs 5 billion. This includes several benami (illegally operating) companies.
Barua, against whom Interpol alerts have been issued, also goes by the names of Kamruj Zaman Khan, Nur-uz-Zaman and Zaman Bhai in Dhaka.
Anti-terror specialist and former Punjab Police chief KPS Gill says on his website www.satp.org (South Asia Terrorism Portal) that ULFA has launched several income generating projects in Bangladesh.
"It has set up a number of firms in Dhaka, including media consultancies and soft drink manufacturing units. The ULFA reportedly owns three hotels, a private clinic and two motor driving schools in Dhaka."
The site says that Paresh Barua is reported to personally own or has controlling interests in several businesses in Bangladesh, including a tannery, a chain of departmental stores, garment factories, travel agencies, shrimp trawlers and transport and investment companies.
Reliable sources quoting political leaders in Bangladesh said Barua's funds are being managed and assisted by a senior functionary and candidate of one of the parties fighting elections.
The ULFA leadership has managed to stay in Bangladesh for close to 15 years regardless of the party in power, be it pro-India Awami League or Khaleda Zia- led BNP. There is not a single report of Bangladesh taking any action against ULFA, barring some isolated cases.
Gill indicates on his website that it is an open secret in Bangladesh that ULFA leadership is living an open and luxurious life in that country.
Reports indicate that the stakes for ULFA in the coming Bangladesh election is very high. The new government will have the authority to decide either to give shelter to ULFA leaders and cadres or to hand them over to India.
Analysts say ULFA apprehends that with Indian influence growing in Southeast Asia and with the US cooperating with India on many issues including terrorism, the possibility of the rebels being deported to India seems very real.
"ULFA has to pay protection money to government officials of Bangladesh," said one source who spoke strictly on the condition of anonymity.
And rogue elements within the Pakistani intelligence ISI know that their grip on ULFA is "complete and firm", the source added.
Like many revolutionary groups that start with an ideology and purpose, ULFA has veered off its cause for which it was created 27 years back. The recent senseless killings of Bihari migrants, most of them poor, in Assam have again raised questions about the agenda of ULFA, which claims to be fighting for a sovereign Assam.