Assam govt in wait-and-watch mode

Assam govt in wait-and-watch mode.

The Assam government has been analysing the statements of Ulfa (Independent) chief Paresh Barua, who recently said the outfit would join talks only if they are held in an atmosphere of trust and sovereignty is the “one-point agenda” on the table.

A day after sealing the Bodo Accord, finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Tuesday invited Barua to join the peace talks.

Subsequently, the Ulfa (I) chief, in a telephonic interview to a local news channel, said: “We are demanding sovereignty and that is the one point agenda for us. We want talks in a positive atmosphere with the one-point agenda. The government should be sincere. We don’t even need to go to Delhi, we can talk in Assam.”

Sarma said on Thursday, “We have already invited him to join the peace process. But this is not easy as he is demanding talks based on sovereignty and it will be a complex process. We have received the media reports and the statements he made and currently the state government is analysing them. His statement had some ‘positive’ hints and we are going to share the details when the Prime Minister and home minister visit Assam.”

Formed in 1979 with the aim of creating a “sovereign Assam”, Ulfa is the biggest militant outfit of the state. When Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa joined the peace process in 2011 with his loyalists, Barua stayed back as the Centre ruled out talks on the issue of “sovereign Assam”.

On the sidelines of the surrender ceremony of NDFB factions here on Thursday, Union home joint secretary (Northeast), Satyendra Garg, said the government was hopeful and positive developments are around the corner.

Asked whether the government was ready to talk on “sovereignty”, Garg said, “We only talk to those who agree to abide by the Constitution. However, we must be optimistic. Who had thought that the Bodo militancy issue would be addressed so quickly? There are many positive developments that happened in the last six months and more are in the pipeline.”

He said peace parleys with the pro-talks faction of Ulfa had already covered most of the issues. “For a fruitful solution, we also want Ulfa (I) to come onboard. We are working on it and the entire peace process will be over in a few months,” he added.

Reacting to reports of the government trying to bring Barua to the peace table before Rongali Bihu celebrations in April, Garg said, “You can have speculation but we don’t discuss such stuff till the outcome is achieved. But we want to make things happen fast.”

Sources said the reactions of Sarma and Garg suggested that the government was approaching the ticklish issue of sovereignty with an “open mind”. They said similar reactions by Barua to talks offer in the past had seen the government summarily ruling out dialogue on the issue of sovereignty but no side is “jumping the gun”, fuelling hope of a breakthrough which “will be complex but not impossible”.

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