Rebels of all hues love to believe in their own propaganda. No wonder that the Assamese insurgents have their own 'theory' of why the people took part in the state elections in large numbers. True, this was the first time that the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom did not call for a poll boycott. That certainly helped to make it a peaceful poll. But the elections primarily prove the people's preference for the democratic way. Even on earlier occasions, when the Ulfa wanted the people to boycott the polls, the people defied its diktat. The vote may not solve all their problems; but the people of Assam have proved time and again that they have little love for the Ulfa's violent ways. Even this time, the Ulfa chairman, Mr Arabinda Rajkhowa, sought to use the elections for the outfit's propaganda. The elections, according to him, were 'forced' on the people and these symbolized the 'Indian colonial control' of Assam. The Ulfa has used such rhetoric for more than a quarter of a century now. Assam has bled from its violence, but it has refused to cower before it. These polls, therefore, should be one more lesson for the militants.
However, the agenda for Assam's peace must be pursued irrespective of the outcome of the polls. The Ulfa has an important role to play in the peace negotiations. It is one thing to carry on a propaganda war and quite another to build a realistic atmosphere for peace talks. Two rounds of talks between New Delhi and the Ulfa-appointed people's consultative committee have set the tone for the negotiations. Neither side can expect the process not to occasionally stumble on some unforeseen events. The Ulfa's suspicions of some 'vested quarters' trying to scuttle the peace talks may have an element of posturing. But both the government and the rebels must ensure that the peace process is not derailed. In neighbouring Nagaland, the peace process has endured many odds against it. The Assamese rebels, though, have not taken the most important lesson from Nagaland. The ceasefire in Nagaland has been the lifeline of the peace process there. In Assam, too, the two sides have to move towards a mutual understanding in order to end the hostilities. The current round of talks will be fruitful only if it sets the terms for a ceasefire in Assam. Small irritants must not be allowed to spoil the talks. Peace-makers anywhere have to look at the big picture.