06:57 GMT19 September 2020
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    The United Liberation Front of Asom has been leading an insurgency since early 90s against the influx of illegal migrants, mainly from Bangladesh, who the locals allege have eroded the culture and identity of the original inhabitants of Assam. They fear that the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill will force the state to accept illegal settlers.

    Guwahati (Sputnik): When the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which has been leading a bloody insurgency in India's north-eastern state of Assam with ethnic and territorial focus with intermittent secessionist tendencies, split into the pro-talks and the pro-struggle factions in 2011, it was considered as a major victory for the government of India.

    However, the latest killing of five persons by the outfit in Assam's Tinsukia district earlier this month came as a strong indication of the group's reconsolidation amid reports of local youths joining the militia.  Many have argued this is due to the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, which endorses citizenship for non-Muslim immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan who arrived in India before December 31, 2014. 

    Sputnik correspondent Rishikesh Kumar traveled to Guwahati and met with Anup Chetia, founder leader of ULFA, who is now heading the pro-talks camp. He was of the opinion that the rigid stance adopted by the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) on the Citizenship Amendment Bill compounded by the feeling among the Assamese people that democratic protests are going nowhere have helped militancy to revive in Assam.

    Sputnik: What is the present status of Paresh Baruah who continues to lead the pro-struggle faction of ULFA?

    Anup Chetia: The news about his death near Myanmar border was a rumor as he contacted me several times even after the news about his death. I think three months ago, he met with an accident in Burma (Myanmar). He rang me up after the accident and told me that his right ribs, right leg, and right thumb were fractured in the accident. After two months of the accident, he informed me that he was quite ok and was able to easily.

    Sputnik: Last month, the Indian government had asked the Chinese authorities not to shelter ULFA chief Paresh Baruah. As both of you are in regular touch, would you tell whether he is living in China?

    Anup Chetia: I don't know whether he is staying in China or not but most of our cadres stay in camps in Burma (Myanmar). I don't believe that he is staying permanently in China; sometimes, he may visit China but I don't know exactly what kind of information the government of India has.

    READ MORE: India Weeding out Illegal Settlers is its Internal Matter: Bangladeshi Minister

    Sputnik: Have you ever tried to convince Paresh Baruah to join peace process?

    Anup Chetia: I never requested him to come to the peace table. But I requested the government of India to take some initiative to let Baruah put his points of view across.  At least, the discussion should be started.

    Sputnik: There are reports that local youths are once again veering towards insurgency as evident from the number of newly armed cadres ULFA has been boasting of late. What could be the reason behind this trend?   

    Anup Chetia: We started this movement in 1979 with a non-violent democratic approach like the demonstration, hunger strike, etc in Assam to protect our culture and identity against illegal migrants. But, the government of India did not show interest to hear us out which forced us to take up arms.

    Now, with the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill aiming to grant citizenship to foreigners, the same kind of situation is bound to arise in Assam. I met the joint parliamentary committee when they had visited the state to know the opinion of the people and that time I expressed my views that if the proposed Bill is passed, most of the state's youngsters will take up arms as their faith on non-violent struggle will fade. This is precisely why many youngsters have started joining the pro-struggle faction of ULFA led by Paresh Baruah.

    Going by the Assam Accord which was signed in 1985, Assam has already accepted a huge number of foreigners who illegally entered the state from Bangladesh and Nepal.

    If the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill comes into effect, we will have to accept another two million people who have been identified as foreigners in the National Register of Citizens. This means again we have to accept a huge burden. If the government passes the Bill, more Bangladeshis will come in near future. In the next 15-20 years, the political party in power at that time or some rights group will argue that they are Hindus and that they must be accepted in India. Thus, the culture and identity of the Assamese people will gradually erode.  

    READ MORE: No Question of India Granting 'Refugee' Status to Rohingya — Home Minister

    Sputnik: Do you believe that the Tinsukia killings were a sign of the revival of ULFA in Assam?

    Anup Chetia: The situation for such violence was created by the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) especially the Bengali speaking leaders Sukumar Biswas, Siladitya Dev, and Pradip Dutta Ray. They go around saying that they want to make Assam like Tripura and not like Jammu and Kashmir. If we see in Tripura, the the local or indigenous people have been marginalized and comprises only 19% population of the state's total population. So what does the BJP intend? This means they have plans to make the original inhabitants of Assam a minority in the state. Therefore, most of our young boys are getting attracted towards insurgency. The ULFA need not lure them; they are seeing the developments on their own and taking decisions on their own.

    Sputnik: The general election is not very far away. Which party are you going to support in the polls?  

    Anup Chetia: We are not going to support anybody. Let's people decide their democratic representatives.

    Sputnik: What do you have to say about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's personal intervention in security your deportation from Dhaka, Bangladesh where you spent 17 years in prison?

    Anup Chetia:  I am very grateful to him. But under present circumstances, we cannot support Narendra Modi led BJP in the upcoming election as we do not concur with the party's policies. Yes in the last election, we had silently supported the BJP but not this time.

    READ MORE: 4 Million Fear Deportation as Indian Border State Issues Draft Citizens' List

    Sputnik: You started the armed struggle against the government of India in the 1990s but after being freed from Bangladeshi prison, you have come to the table for talks. What has changed in the last 20 years that prompted your decision?

     Anup Chetia: Our struggle will continue for the larger interest of Assamese people but in a democratic way. When we had taken up the arm for the cause of the people, the situation was different in terms of mobility and connectivity but right now, the situation is completely different. Moreover, earlier we had asked for sovereignty but now we are fighting to protect our identity within the framework of the constitution of India.


    Sputnik: There is a thought within the government of India that China is still supporting insurgents in the northeastern part of the country. What would you say on this?

     Anup Chetia: I don't think China has lent support to any of the insurgent groups in the northeast India. I think China is continuing the policy of "non-interference in any country's internal matter."

     Sputnik: Few days ago, Indian security personnel had found Chinese arms in the hand of two terrorists in Assam who were killed by the locals. Was not that an indication of Chinese support?  

    Anup Chetia: Anybody can purchase any weapon from the black market.  Chinese weapons can also be purchased in the same manner from smugglers. You can purchase American M-16 also. Does that mean that you are getting support from America? In the international smuggling market, anybody can purchase arms of any country whether that is German, Chinese or even Russian.

    The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect Sputnik's position.


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    armed groups, non-violence, illegal migrants, citizenship, insurgency, election, Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), State of Assam, India
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