Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma’s efforts to bring ULFA (I) to the discussion table and sign the elusive peace agreement seems to be bearing fruitful as the militant outfit has now decided against a call to boycott the Independence Day this year, a first since 1996.
The outfit, which had declared a three-month ceasefire in May, said that it was not calling for a bandh on Independence Day this year keeping in mind the hardships faced by the people due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A statement, signed by the outfit’s ‘publicity cell’ member Rumel Asom, said ULFA-I will neither engage in an “armed protest” nor call for “any kind of bandh” this Independence Day, on account of numerous issues, including “COVID -19 pandemic, border conflicts in South-Asian region, floods and erosion and problems of unemployment.”
However, it urged people to protest the day “democratically” by unfurling the ULFA flag, wearing black badges and waving black flags. It also raised objection to the celebration of Independence Day in Assam, saying that the state was “never a part of colonial India”, citing the second article of the Treaty of Yandaboo, which was signed on February 24, 1826, between the East India Company and Burma.
Ever since it was founded in 1979, ULFA-I has been making a customary call for a bandh on Republic Day and Independence Day every year, while demanding creation of a “sovereign Assam”. A faction of the group led by ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa had joined the peace process in 2011 while the ULFA-I, led by Paresh Baruah, insisted on its demands.
However, the Baruah-led faction also seems to be heading towards the peace pact now as the outfit has already announced that it is ready for a discussion on Assam’s sovereignty, by putting forth “historical facts” and in line with the objective of the outfit.
Earlier in May this year, Sarma had appealed to ULFA-I chief Baruah to leave the path of violence and return to the mainstream. A few days after that, the outfit announced a unilateral ceasefire for three months and said it would halt all operations for the period, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the outfit said: “We are open to talks but the discussions have to be in line with the objective of the outfit – that is to restore sovereignty.”
ULFA-I has also demanded that the government bring in a Constitutional amendment as a step towards the discussions. “India has amended the Constitution 104 times. Why can’t it amend it once more so as to sit for a discussion with us?” the statement asked.