The United Liberation Front of Asom is hell-bent on intensifying its terror tactics in Assam. It has claimed 130 lives in the State since January. The chain of low-intensity blasts has generated a sense of insecurity and public anger. The perception is that ULFA took advantage of scaled-down security during the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, which necessitated the shifting of 40 companies of central paramilitary forces to that State. Elections over, these security forces should have been brought back to Assam promptly, as the State government wanted; it took Saturday's blast for the Centre to rush in additional forces. Hitting the economy of the State seems to be the strategy of ULFA, whose grievance, ironically, used to be that New Delhi took away Assam's resources and neglected local development. The renewed vicious targeting of Hindi-speaking people, who have a significant and valuable presence in pockets of the State, is meant to create societal rifts.
The popular mood favouring peace has manifested itself in various ways. ULFA is finding it difficult to recruit new cadres. It also faces ground-level disenchantment against its violent and disruptive ways. The Tarun Gogoi regime's successes in facing up to the tactics of ULFA, including the conduct of the National Games in Guwahati, have demonstrated political will and guts. Pressure must be stepped up on the banned organisation, whose agenda of "sovereignty" leaves little room for meaningful negotiations. The Manmohan Singh dispensation cannot be faulted for not trying. It is even possible that the unsuccessful rounds of talks with the People's Consultative Group, and New Delhi's decision to hold its fire for six weeks in 2006, gave the extremist organisation some breathing space. Choking ULFA's supply and communications networks and staunching its income from extortion are priorities. India also needs to step up diplomatic and political pressure on both Bangladesh and Myanmar to act sincerely to end cross-border support to terrorism. A democratic transition in Dhaka is likely to help. Internally, there is an urgent need to eliminate ULFA's linkages and bases in neighbouring north-eastern States. Saturday's terrorist attack is a reminder to all democrats that the time for the final push against Assam's secessionist desperadoes has come.