Amid rumours about talks ULFA-I rejigs outfit
Amid speculations on possible peace talks, the banned United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I) on Sunday announced ‘structural changes’ in the outfit.
According to a statement issued by the militant outfit (which HT has seen) to editors of media organisations, three new councils have been formed with vice-chairman and commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah heading the supreme council. There would be no change in the military wing of the outfit.
“With effect from September 4, while the military wing of ULFA-I would remain as before, the outfit’s central working council has unanimously decided to temporarily suspend the constitutional infrastructure and carry out the mentioned structural change,” the brief statement issued by ‘brigadier’ Arunudoy Asom read.
There was no mention of what prompted the outfit to make the changes. ULFA-I used to have a military as well as a political wing. There’s no clarity yet on what will be the status of the political wing after creation of the new councils.
Besides self-styled general Baruah, two others---self-styled lieutenant general Michael Asom and self-styled major general Nayan Asom are other members of the supreme council.
Michael Asom aka Joy Chandra Das was appointed in November last year as deputy c-in-c of the outfit following the surrender of Drishti Rajkhowa, second in command to Baruah, in Meghalaya after a gun battle with security forces.
The outfit’s new high council, which has four members, will be headed by Nayan Asom. It will have three other members with rank of self-styled brigadiers. Nayan Asom would also be the chief of lower council of ULFA-I that would have a total of 13 members.
Since May this year, when the second Bharatiya Janata Party-led government assumed office in Assam, there have been speculations that ULFA-I could join peace talks with the Centre.
The outfit, has, however maintained that the issue of Assam’s sovereignty should be part of talks---a pre-condition, which has been ruled out by the Centre as well the state government.
Citing the Covd-19 pandemic, the outfit declared a unilateral ceasefire in May for three months. It was extended by another three months in August. This year, for the first time since its inception in 1979, ULFA-I didn’t boycott the Independence Day celebrations or called for a ‘bandh’ to mark the occasion.
“Our organization is not against talks or belligerent. But it is not possible to deny historic facts or waver from our ideological goals in the name of talks. Indian authorities have maintained that talks with ULFA-I can’t include the question of (Assam’s) sovereignty,” ULFA-I said in a statement released in August.
“The Constitution of India has been amended nearly 100 times. Why can’t it be amended again to allow for talks with ULFA-I? If India wants talks, it should amend the Constitution to approve right to secede by communities or allow a plebiscite participated in by bonafide indigenous communities,” it added.
On Saturday, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told journalists in New Delhi that unofficial links have been established with ULFA-I c-in-c Paresh Baruah (to bring the outfit to talks). “It would take time, but I am hopeful,” he said.
ULFA was formed in April 1979 with the aim of establishing a sovereign Assam through armed struggle. The group split in August 2012 with several senior leaders shunning arms and agreeing to sit for talks. The anti-talks faction renamed itself at ULFA-I and continues to pursue the slated goal.