The outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) appears to have vertically split with its elusive commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah snubbing the other top leaders, most of whom are either in jail or out on bail, over the peace process.
At a time when ULFA vice chairman Pradip Gogoi and publicity chief Mithinga Daimary were mobilising public opinion in furthering the deadlocked peace process, Paresh Baruah took a belligerent posture - no talks and no compromise on its demand for sovereignty or independence.
The ULFA commander-in-chief's adamant stand of rejecting any peace initiative minus independence is seen a snub to the outfit's overground leaders who recently helped in the formation of the Citizen's Forum to broker peace with the government.
The 11-member Citizens Forum last week claimed that the top ULFA leadership, including Paresh Baruah, would come for peace talks.
The Forum was formed after Gogoi and Daimary met leading citizens in the state and sought their help in furthering the deadlocked peace process.
The two ULFA leaders are now out on bail after a Guwahati court last month released them from judicial custody.
"Pradip Gogoi and Daimary are talking of peace while Paresh Baruah simply rejected the Forum's initiative for negotiations by terming them agents of the government. So I would say the ULFA has split into two factions with Paresh Baruah ignoring the other leaders," Dhirendranath Chakravarty, a noted writer and bitter critic of ULFA said.
Some feel that the Forum's decision to hold a statewide convention April 24 to drum up public opinion for peace talks was of no relevance after the ULFA commander-in-chief rejection of the move.
"The convention has become infructuous," Chakravarty said.
But the Forum members are unfazed.
"We are going ahead with our convention and I think this is Paresh Baruah's personal views," Forum convenor Hiren Gohain said.
"Since I am the only top leader who is not in the custody of the Indian rulers, I consider it as my right and duty to clarify the ULFA's stand on the convention," Paresh Baruah said in an emailed statement Wednesday.
The statement clearly indicates a rift within the ULFA - Paresh Baruah on one side, adamant on waging a war for independence, and the other rebel leaders who are either in jail or out on bail expressing their desire for peace talks with the government.
Barring Paresh Baruah, the entire top brass of the outfit is in jail. The imprisoned leaders include 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.
"I don't want to make any comments right now," Pradip Gogoi said.