M. S. Prabhakara
Separatist movements have been an integral part of the politics of Assam
Separatist movements, of which some have become active insurgencies, are a key issue in the elections in Assam. There are some 30 such groups, but most are little more than nameplate organisations, with a limited presence (if at all), engaging sporadically in extortion and acting as pressure groups. A dozen or so are dormant, either engaged in or waiting for formal talks with the State and Central governments.
Three insurgencies are currently active: the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF).
ULFA, the oldest of them being founded on April 7, 1979, is based principally in Assam with its support base in the Brahmaputra valley. It has had training camps and sanctuaries in Nagaland and Naga inhabited areas of Arunachal Pradesh, as well as in Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
It has had some operational links with other insurgent outfits in Assam and in the northeast, especially with both the major factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN).
ULFA’s stated objective is the attainment of Swadhin Asom (independent Assam). It has declared its readiness to talk with the government on the condition that the above is on the agenda.
Once active throughout the State, with the capacity to strike at will, the organisation has suffered splits and desertions; however these do not seem to have affected its capacity to constantly renew itself. Most of its top leaders are in exile. Its Vice President and General Secretary are in prison in Guwahati and Dhaka. Many others have been killed.
Most recently, a group calling itself the pro-talks faction of ULFA, walked out and is staying in ‘designated camps,’ in Assam; however, it has not surrendered its arms.
This group, which seeks ‘maximum autonomy’ for Assam, insists that any talks should discuss this demand. One of the group’s leaders made the point, that in every election since 1991 — that is, after the dismissal of the first Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) Ministry — no party or alliance has been able to come to power in Assam without ULFA’s support.
The NDFB, originally known as the Bodo Security Force (BdSF), was founded on October 3, 1986. Its stated objective is the attainment of a sovereign Bodoland. Ranjan Daimary, its founder president, was recently eased out of his position and later expelled from the organisation. This internal upheaval took place co-terminously with the latest renewal of the six monthly ceasefire and truce arrangement in January this year. This arrangement has been place since May 2005, though formal talks are yet to begin. Despite this longstanding arrangement, a faction of the NDFB under Mr. Daimary is believed to have been involved in the serial bomb blasts in Assam on October 30 last year. This is one of the reasons for his expulsion, according to the new president of the NDFB, Dhiren Boro.
The youngest of the active insurgencies in Assam, the Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF) came into being on May 16, 2004, following the ceasefire signed with the government by the United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), the Karbi Anglong-based insurgent outfit, two years earlier. A faction of the UPDS opposed to the ceasefire split and constituted itself as the KLNLF.
Though its name includes North Cachar Hills, the KLNLF is active principally in Karbi Anglong, which, with the North Cachar Hills district, constitutes the Autonomous District (ST) Lok Sabha constituency. Its stated objective is greater autonomy for the district, not sovereignty or independence.
The KLNLF has carried out spectacular actions of ambush, kidnapping for ransom and murder. Its activities have severely hampered power and railway construction projects in the district, a crucial area linking the Brahmaputra Valley and the Barak Valley.