The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ulfa plebiscite salvo at Gogoi

Guwahati, March 1: A salvo for a salvo and no solution in sight.

A day after chief minister Tarun Gogoi repeated what he had said many times before — “Ulfa’s demand for sovereignty is a tactic to delay the peace process” — the militant group hit back at the government with one of its trademark challenges.

Ulfa dared the government to hold a plebiscite on sovereignty if it considered the issue unimportant. The militant group responded to Gogoi’s statement through its monthly bulletin, Swadhinata.

“If it (the government) cannot hold discussions on the issue of sovereignty, let it show the courage of showing respect to the people’s opinion by conducting a plebiscite,” Ulfa said.

It is not the first time that Ulfa has insisted on a plebiscite as a means to end the debate on whether Assam needs or desires “sovereignty” at all. But when an opinion poll conducted by a pressure group, Public Works, showed that more than 95 per cent of the people in nine districts of the state did not support the campaign for sovereignty, the militant group was livid.

Ulfa dismissed the poll, conducted among 25.64 lakh people, as a rigged affair and branded Public Works as “a government agent”. The militant group started its hate campaign against Hindi-speaking people the very next day after the announcement of the poll outcome.

Apart from countering Gogoi’s argument, Ulfa used its latest edition of Swadhinata to deny having pumped any money into the election campaign of some major political parties of Bangladesh. The outfit said the allegation in an analytical report by US think tank Strategic Foresight Inc (Stratfor) was part of a conspiracy to create a rift in its rank and file.

The Stratfor report said Ulfa was bankrolling political parties in Bangladesh with over $6 million of extorted money. It said at least 15 election candidates of both the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League had benefited from the militant group’s largesse.

Stratfor described Ulfa commander-in-chief Paresh Barua as “an enormously wealthy racketeer worth approximately $ 110 million”. Barua, it said, had established businesses throughout India, Bangladesh and the Gulf.

The Ulfa rejoinder in Swadhinata said Dispur and Delhi had left it with no other option but to intensify its “armed struggle.”

The outfit has been saying that “direct talks” with Delhi will be possible only if the government frees five of its jailed leaders and includes the issue of “restoration of Asom’s sovereignty” on the agenda.

But Gogoi reiterated yesterday that a government bound by the oath to uphold the Constitution could never hold talks on sovereignty, leave alone accede to it.

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