ULFA-I deputy commander-in-chief Drishti Rajkhowa following his surrender in Meghalaya on Wednesday.(HT photo)
ULFA-I deputy commander-in-chief Drishti Rajkhowa following his surrender in Meghalaya on Wednesday.(HT photo)

How ULFA-I top commander surrendered after a 9-year-long effort by army officer

Drishti Rajkhowa alias Manoj Rabha, an expert in rocket propelled grenade (RPG), was ranked next to ULFA-I C-in-C Paresh Baruah
By Utpal Parashar and David Laitphlang | Hindustan Times, Guwahati/Shillong
UPDATED ON NOV 12, 2020 01:01 PM IST

The untiring efforts of an officer of the Indian Army’s military intelligence (MI) wing for the past nine years came good following the surrender of outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam-Independent’s (ULFA-I) deputy commander-in-chief (C-in-C) Drishti Rajkhowa in neighbouring Meghalaya on Wednesday.

Rajkhowa alias Manoj Rabha, an expert in rocket propelled grenade (RPG), was ranked next to ULFA-I C-in-C Paresh Baruah.

His surrender, along with four other cadres, and laying down their arms and ammunition is likely to be a rude jolt to the separatist outfit, which has been fighting for Assam’s sovereignty since 1979.

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had banned the insurgent group in 1990 citing it as a terrorist organisation.

“Rajkhowa has been a loyal functionary of the organisation for many years. His surrender was the outcome of circumstances and was done with permission from the outfit. The health condition of his wife was also an important factor that led to the surrender,” Baruah told local TV channels in Guwahati over the phone from an undisclosed location abroad.

MI sources said one of its Lieutenant (Lt) Colonel (Col) had managed to establish contact with Rajkhowa and his wife in 2011, when the officer was posted as a Captain in Shillong.

Rajkhowa was promoted as deputy C-in-C by Baruah in November 2011 soon after a split in the outfit, when ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and several other senior cadres decided to give up arms and engage in talks with the government.

“He (the officer) maintained contact (with Rajkhowa) during his posting in the north-east and gradually developed a rapport with him over the last nine years at his own personal risk and safety,” MI sources said.

The officer kept persuading Rajkhowa over the years to give up arms and join the mainstream in a bid to help his native state and its people. The officer managed to make the breakthrough because of the rapport he had developed with Rajkhowa’s immediate family members.

Rajkhowa relented and agreed to surrender also largely because of his wife’s worsening health condition.

An elaborate plan was put in place for the surrender exercise. The inputs were shared with the Assam-based 21st Mountain Division of Indian Army through director-general of MI (DGMI) on Tuesday (November 10)

Rajkhowa contacted the officer and reiterated his decision to surrender along with four of his bodyguards. He requested for safe passage in an MI vehicle and under Indian Army’s protection from his hideout -- near the India-Bangladesh at Baghmara in Meghalaya’s South Garo Hills district -- till Guwahati.

“The input was shared with DGMI and further communicated to the Indian Army’s Eastern Command headquarters in Kolkata. The officer coordinated the operation, which was launched at 2 am on Wednesday (November 11), to take Rajkhowa into military custody and pave the way for his surrender,” MI sources informed.

The operation lasted for around 12 hours.

ULFA-1 cadres turned over an Avtomat Kalashnikova (AK)-81 assault rifle, two magazines and two pistols to the security forces.

“This operation is a game-changer as far as the north-east insurgency is concerned. The officer deserves kudos for his relentless pursuit. He managed to persuade Rajkhowa to surrender at great personal risk. He is worthy of special mention and recognition,” the MI sources added.

Rajkhowa, who was based in neighbouring Bangladesh, was responsible for carrying out several operations in the past years and was also the main conduit of providing arms to several active militant groups in the volatile north-east region.

His surrender is expected to further weaken Baruah, who is believed to be based in China’s Yunnan province, and frequently travels to several nations in south-east Asia.

Rajkhowa’s exit from the outfit could prompt others to follow suit, as the insurgent group is believed to be left with only around 200 hardened cadres.

Indian Army officials followed the protocol and handed over Rajkhowa to Meghalaya Police authorities, who turned him to Assam Police on Thursday morning.

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