COSTLY MISTAKE

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 25.01.07
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Insurgent groups in the North-east routinely try to incite xenophobia in order to enlist local sympathies for their rebellions. But this ploy rarely works. It is not surprising, therefore, that most sections of the Assamese have been revolted by the diktat issued by the United Liberation Front of Asom to “all Hindi-speaking people” to leave the state. That the threat follows the Ulfa’s killing of nearly 70 innocent labourers from Bihar may have caused panic among the non-Assamese people living in the state. But it takes the Ulfa nowhere near its goal of securing a “sovereign Assam”. On the contrary, it exposes the Ulfa’s isolation from the state’s political mainstream and also from its people. It shows, too, the moral degeneration of an insurgent group which once claimed not to make any distinction between the Assamese and the non-Assamese people. This phenomenon is not entirely unknown in the region. In Tripura and Manipur, too, secessionist movements against the state often ended up in ethnic killings. However, it is not enough for the politicians in Assam to condemn the Ulfa’s killings and its threats to the people from outside the state. They must understand that the interests of the state and of the Assamese people are the worst casualty of these acts of terror.

For New Delhi and Dispur, the Ulfa’s isolation from the people and the popular mood of revulsion for its terror should be seen as an opportunity. Clearly, its latest violence is a desperate response to the renewed army offensive against it. It has unleashed the violence in the hope that it would force the government to resume the peace talks. Neither the Centre nor the state government should submit to this violent blackmail. The chief minister, Mr Tarun Gogoi, now admits that last year’s ceasefire was a mistake because it gave the Ulfa its opportunity to re-group and re-arm its cadre. Another such mistake should be avoided at all costs. That is not to suggest that peace negotiations should not be given a chance. But the talks can resume, as the prime minister, Mr Manmohan Singh, suggested during his visit to Assam last month, only after the Ulfa gave up violence. This is the message that the Assamese intellectuals, who brokered the last talks on the Ulfa’s behalf, should carry to the group’s leaders. Those who deal in deaths and terror must not be allowed to set the terms for peace.