The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi dilemma on Ulfa talks

Guwahati, Feb. 21: Delhi is consulting legal eagles and Constitution experts to ascertain whether it can commit itself to a detailed discussion with the banned Ulfa on the thorny topic of sovereignty.

A source in the Union home ministry said the government was unlikely to rush its reply to Ulfa's letter, in which the outfit iterated its conditions for a dialogue. He said the home ministry was examining the extent to which the subject could be discussed with the militant group without violating the Constitution.

Delhi has agreed, in principle, to take up the subject, but only if it is clubbed with other issues/demands. Ulfa has asked for a commitment in writing from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

The home ministry source said the government's biggest challenge was to bring Ulfa to the negotiation table without crossing the 'constitutional boundaries'.

'Though both sides are talking of unconditional talks, there is, in reality, nothing called unconditional. Ulfa's demand that sovereignty be made the main issue is in itself a condition. We have to make sure that we do not commit ourselves to something that cannot be given. This may create problems once the talks start.'

The source said the Centre was, however, hopeful of making a breakthrough with Ulfa this time round.

Writer and Delhi University professor Mamoni Raisom Goswami confirmed that the PMO would 'take some time' to reply to Ulfa's letter. 'I am not trying to rush things either because the issue is a sensitive one,' she said over phone from the capital.

National security adviser M.K. Narayanan, too, indicated that a reply to Ulfa's letter would not be despatched in haste.

Goswami had contacted former attorney-general Soli Sorabjee recently to discuss the Ulfa's demand for talks on sovereignty. Though the Constitution leaves no room for negotiating the country's sovereignty, legal experts here are of the opinion that the term itself has several connotations.

'There is economic sovereignty, for instance. It can be discussed and even granted. A state with greater economic freedom is possible,' said a top lawyer without wanting to be named.

Another lawyer said the 'starting point' of a dialogue should be 'lower than Ulfa's demand for a swadhin Asom (sovereign Assam)'.

The initiative by Goswami to broker talks between the Centre and Ulfa is being seen as the most credible one in recent times. The general belief within Assam is that talks will take off this time because of the flexibility shown by both sides.

Goswami had said last week that Ulfa chief Paresh Barua, too, sounded 'very enthusiastic' while talking to her over phone. 'Things seem to be back on track after some hiccups. I believe that both sides are very keen to grab the opportunity to end the long impasse.'

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