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A senior official said that the CBI may not oppose Anup Chetia’s bail once the matter comes up in court in order to facilitate his participation in the peace process. Photo: Reuters
A senior official said that the CBI may not oppose Anup Chetia’s bail once the matter comes up in court in order to facilitate his participation in the peace process. Photo: Reuters

Centre eyes peace deal with Ulfa ahead of Assam polls

In a bid to expedite the agreement, the NDA govt is likely to involve Ulfa general secretary Anup Chetia in the talks

The centre is keen on finalizing a peace agreement with the pro-talks faction of the United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa) before the assembly elections in Assam, which are due early next year. The government has asked its interlocutor for Ulfa talks, P.C. Haldar, a former chief of the Intelligence Bureau, to speed up the process.

The other faction of the Ulfa, headed by Paresh Baruah, which is opposed to any dialogue with the centre, continues to be classified as a “banned terrorist organization" by the Union home ministry.

The peace talks have a political link to the Assam elections and are aimed at addressing concerns over illegal migration from neighbouring Bangladesh.

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government is keen to send out a strong message by sealing the peace agreement before the assembly polls as the saffron party had done well in the state during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, winning seven out of 14 seats. The BJP has been steadily making political inroads in the north-east and even managed to win two seats in the Manipur assembly bypolls on Tuesday.

The peace talks flow from the pro-talks Ulfa faction’s main demand: to declare six communities—the Koch-Rajbongshis, tea tribes, Tai Ahoms, Morans, Motoks and Chutiyas—as scheduled tribes. They are classed as other backward classes (OBCs).

This in turn would mean more constituencies—in civic, assembly and parliamentary polls—being reserved for scheduled tribe candidates. While this will not directly impact on the flow of immigrants from Bangladesh, it will increase the political representation of scheduled tribes in Assam. The home ministry is already in touch with the tribal affairs ministry on this issue.

The pro-talks Ulfa faction feels this would help protect the political, social and economic interests of the ‘indigenous’ population of Assam from increasing illegal immigration from Bangladesh. They are also demanding a special economic package for the development of Assam.

In an attempt to expedite the Assam agreement, the centre is also likely to involve Anup Chetia, Ulfa’s general secretary, in the talks. Chetia was deported to India by Bangladesh earlier this month and is currently lodged in a Guwahati jail.

A senior government official who did not wish to be identified said that the Central Bureau of Investigation may not oppose Chetia’s bail once the matter comes up in court in order to facilitate his participation in the peace process.

“Chetia’s return from Bangladesh is a very positive development in taking the peace dialogue in Assam forward as he has always been part of the moderate faction within Ulfa which wanted a dialogue with the government, so we will try that he also joins the talks. The centre is committed to ensuring peace and development not just in Assam but the entire north-east and for this we recently entered into an agreement with the Naga outfit NSCN(IM)," the official added.

On Tuesday, the pro-talks faction of Ulfa, led by its president Arabinda Rajkhowa, had a detailed meeting with home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi and other senior government officials, including those from Assam, in an attempt to work out an agreement. The official quoted above said another meeting is likely to take place at the end of December, by when the centre hopes that the modalities for the peace deal would have been decided.

Minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju said the government was hopeful of an early breakthrough in the ongoing talks with Ulfa. “In an attempt to bring peace in the north-east, the government has been talking to several groups including Ulfa and we hope that a solution would be found soon," he said.

During the talks on Tuesday, Ulfa leaders stressed the need to involve Chetia. “There can be no political discussion without our general secretary Anup Chetia’s participation in the talks as these are important negotiations. We have appealed to the government to ensure his early release from judicial custody so that he can join us," Rajkhowa said.

A home ministry spokesperson said Ulfa leaders appreciated the efforts made by the government in bringing Chetia back from Bangladesh and the government has asked its interlocutor to examine the request made by Ulfa leaders for involving Chetia in the peace talks.

Shashadhar Choudhury, another senior Ulfa leader, said they were extremely hopeful that Chetia would join the next round of talks in December.

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