Guwahati/Dibrugarh, Oct. 26: A tinge of embarrassment today coarsed through the ranks of the lately upbeat army after it was forced to postpone another organised surrender of militants because some of those who had sent feelers about their willingness to give up the gun did not turn up.
Army officers tried hard to convince the media that the postponement was necessitated by a positive development rather than a negative one. A spokesman said some more militants wished to surrender and the army wanted them to do so with those who had already committed themselves.
A source in the security establishment, however, said the about-turn by some of those who had agreed to surrender was the only reason for the postponement. “It was a case of counting the chicks before they had hatched.”
The army announced only yesterday that around a dozen rebels — most of them from Ulfa — would surrender with arms in the headquarters of the 181 Mountain Brigade at Laipuli in Tinsukia district. Had the ceremony been held, it would have been the second in less than a week.
As many as 33 militants, 31 of them from Ulfa, surrendered at Tamulpur in Baksa district on Tuesday. The leader of the group, Nagen Rabha, said he and his comrades decided to “return to the mainstream” because the Ulfa leadership “does not care for lower-level cadre”.
A source did not rule out today’s episode being a ploy by Ulfa to embarrass the army. “The outfit has received several jolts in the past few months with several top leaders either arrested or killed. The mass surrender in Tamulpur was another setback. The outfit may have intentionally embarrassed the army to deflate its morale,” he said.
The army had invited a large media contingent from Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts to cover the surrender ceremony. When the event did not happen as planned, officers were at pains to come up with explanations.
“We have got feelers from more rebels who have decided to give up the gun. This is why we postponed the ceremony till Monday. It is a very positive development for the security forces and, overall, for the people of Assam,” Brig. Binoy Poonnen, the commander of the 181 Mountain Brigade, said over the phone later.
“The good news is that we are in touch with these rebels and, hopefully, our officers on the job will manage to rope them in before Monday,” he added.
The army had been confident that several members of Ulfa’s 28 Battalion, said to be its most potent unit, would surrender today.
The 28 Battalion has taken several blows in the past few months. The casualties include big names like Ulum Bhuyan, Rajeev Saikia and Amar Tanti.
The “commanding officer” of the battalion, Prabal Neog, was arrested along with his wife in Tezpur recently. Pranjal Saikia, the “commander” of the battalion’s Alpha Company, surrendered.