The pro-talks faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) signed a tripartite peace deal with the Centre and the Assam government on December 29, 2023. Read here to learn about the significance of the deal and the history of ULFA.
When six young men met at the Rang Ghar on April 7, 1979, to join the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), peace was probably the furthest thing from their minds. Armed conflict is how they plan to achieve a “sovereign socialist Assam.”
The six were Golap Baruah, alias Anup Chetia, Samiran Gogoi, alias Pradip Gogoi, Bhadreshwar Gohain, Bhimkanta Buragohain, Rajiv Rajkonwar, alias Arabinda Rajkhowa, and Paresh Baruah.
United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA)
ULFA was formed on April 7, 1979, by Paresh Baruah, Arabinda Rajkhowa, Anup Chetia, and other Assamese nationalists. The group emerged as a response to the perceived economic and political marginalization of Assam by the Indian government.
- The primary goal of ULFA was to establish a sovereign, independent state called “Asom” for the Assamese people.
- The leaders claimed that Assam’s resources were being exploited by the Indian government without adequate development in the region.
It was initially a by-product of the anti-foreigners Assam Agitation that began in 1979 and ended with the signing of the Assam Accord in August 1985.
- The protest had been sparked by the concern that one day “illegal immigrants” (people from Bangladesh) would drive away the Assamese and other indigenous populations from their land.
- While local unions and student groups chose to protest, ULFA adopted violent tactics, including bombings, assassinations, and armed attacks, to press its demands for Assamese independence.
- ULFA sought support from external sources, including allegations of receiving assistance from neighboring countries. This led to strained relations between India and those countries.
Attempts at Dialogue and Internal Divisions
Ceasefire (1992): In 1992, the Indian government initiated a ceasefire with ULFA, opening the door for negotiations. However, the talks did not result in a lasting resolution.
Internal Divisions (mid-1990s): Internal divisions within ULFA led to a factional split. Some leaders, including Arabinda Rajkhowa and Anup Chetia, engaged in peace talks with the Indian government, while others, led by Paresh Baruah, continued armed resistance.
The government responded in 1990 with an offensive codenamed Operation Bajrang and banned the ULFA. Assam was declared a disturbed area with the imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
In the 2010s, ULFA shifted its strategy, emphasizing peaceful negotiations over armed struggle. The group expressed willingness to engage in talks with the Indian government.
Peace Initiatives (2019 Onward)
In recent years, there have been renewed efforts for peace talks between the Indian government and ULFA leaders.
In 2019, the Assam Accord was amended to include provisions for safeguarding the cultural, social, and linguistic identity of the Assamese people.
Peace pact with ULFA
Negotiations between ULFA, the Indian government, and the Assam state government began in 2011.
Finally, the pro-talk faction of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) signed a tripartite peace deal with the Centre and the Assam government.
The key terms of the pact are:
For ULFA to:
- Renounce violence and disband their organization.
- Join the democratic process.
- Surrender weapons and camps.
For the government to:
- Address ULFA’s concerns regarding Assamese identity, culture, and land rights.
- A ₹1.5 lakh crore investment for Assam’s holistic development
- Following the principles applied for the 2023 delimitation exercise for future delimitation exercises in Assam
- The pact aims to restrict non-indigenous communities’ representation in the Assam Assembly and seeks exemptions from specific sections of the Citizenship Act of 1955.
What more can be done?
Resolving the issues related to the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) cordially requires a comprehensive and multifaceted approach that addresses the root causes of the conflict.
- Since only the pro-talk faction of the front has signed the pact, the other faction still remains as an issue. The government should engage in sustained and inclusive dialogue with all relevant stakeholders, including both factions of ULFA.
- The socio-economic issues that fueled the insurgency should be addressed by implementing and expediting development projects in Assam.
- Devolving more administrative, political, and financial powers to the state government of Assam. This may involve reviewing the existing administrative structures and providing greater autonomy to address regional concerns.
- Protection of Assamese cultural, linguistic, and social identity. This could involve constitutional guarantees and legal provisions to safeguard the unique identity of the Assamese people.
- Rehabilitation programs for former militants, offering them opportunities for education, skill development, and integration into mainstream society. This approach has been successful in other conflict resolution processes.
- Ensuring that security operations are conducted in compliance with human rights standards. Investigation of any allegations of human rights abuses to build confidence and trust among the affected communities should be carried out.
- Offering conditional amnesty to former militants, provided they renounce violence and engage in the peace process. Develop a legal framework that allows for the rehabilitation and reintegration of those willing to return to mainstream society.
- A comprehensive review of the Assam Accord to address the political and constitutional status of Assam. This may involve constitutional amendments and legal reforms to address the specific demands of the region.
It’s important to note that achieving a peaceful resolution to the issues related to ULFA will require a sustained commitment from all parties involved. Flexibility, compromise, and a genuine understanding of the concerns and aspirations of the people of Assam are essential for building a lasting peace in the region.
There is a great chance for Assamese peace and growth because of the new peace agreement with ULFA. However, a long-lasting peace in the area can only be established by resolving underlying issues, promoting economic development, and guaranteeing social integration.
-Article by Swathi Satish