ULFA strike against Bengali-Hindus in Assam attempt to shore up outfit's support base against Citizenship Bill

Possibility of strikes by the outlawed ULFA had been on the radar of the security agencies for close to three weeks after its chief of staff Paresh Baruah issued an order to cadres to execute an operation. Intercepted messages from the chief also indicated that the target could either be security forces or non-Assamese communities in Assam’s Tinsukia.

Police and army officers have blamed ULFA for the killing of five people although the outfit has denied its involvement. The banned group had refused to acknowledge its role on earlier occasions as well when Hindi-speaking people were shot dead years ago.

An official informed that at least three cells in neighbouring Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh were activated for the operation which was supervised by publicity secretary Arunudoy Duhotiya. He is usually based at the Arakan Camp located about 15 kilometres west of Lake of No Return in Myanmar.

 ULFA strike against Bengali-Hindus in Assam attempt to shore up outfits support base against Citizenship Bill

Family of the victims when the bodies were brought back to them. Image/101Reporters

“One of the groups was successful in carrying out the strike but there could be more attacks if these squads are not neutralised soon,” an official said, and explained that the six member squad that carried out the killings was spotted two days ago near Pengeri along the Assam – Arunachal Pradesh border but their further movements could not be tracked. He added that the group could try to sneak into Arunachal Pradesh through a route that leads to Myanmar.

Bengali-Hindus have been rarely targetted by ULFA since it emerged in the early eighties. In 1986, chairman of United Minorities Front (UMF) Kalipada Sen was shot in Guwahati and a few instances were heard when the outfit ran a parallel government in the late eighties. Bengalis were not in the line of fire since the group’s leaders had taken refuge in Bangladesh where some camps were also established. This is the first episode where the target seemed to have been innocent victims only because they hailed from the community of Bengali Hindus.

The strike is viewed by a section of officials as an attempt by ULFA to shore up its flagging support base as it coincides with a wave of protests sweeping many districts in Assam’s Brahmaputra Valley against the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016. The bill seeks to grant citizenship to certain sections of non Muslim migrants from the neighbouring countries.

It is not clear if the bill would be tabled in Parliament but the fear among large sections of the indigenous communities in Assam’s Brahmaputra Valley of being swamped by Bengali Hindus was amplified when the Centre issued instructions last week to 16 districts across seven states to register Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh as Indian citizens. Earlier, the government had passed two notifications exempting the immigrants from the Foreigners Act 1946 and Passport (Entry into India) Act 1920 which provide for deportation.

Interestingly, the incident on Thursday came hours after a press release was issued by ULFA announcing its decision to expel and arrest a senior functionary named Thou Mung aka Bhaskar Bora who was allegedly working for an intelligence agency. That Bora had come under the scanner of the outfit was known to a group of people who claim that he was often lodged at a safe house in Kharsang. The release said that he was warned many a time but he had failed to dissociate himself from the agency.

“We feel that multiple factors triggered the incident on Thursday. It was also meant to send a message to the intelligence agencies not to try and infiltrate the organisation as they had done several times earlier but without much success,” said a senior over ground ULFA functionary engaged in the peace process with the government.

Despite the heavy presence of security forces, reports of recruitment by ULFA had been pouring in from Tinsukia for the past couple of months. Last week, a video surfaced on social media which showed vice president of Dergaon’s All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) unit Pankaj Pratim Dutta justifying his decision to join the proscribed group.

All these developments came amid unconfirmed inputs that Paresh Baruah was suffering from diabetes and had recently met with an accident at Ruili in China’s south western province of Yunnan. Some over ground functionaries are of the opinion that Baruah has a tendency to order operations whenever there are rumours or chips are down for the organisation. So, the ongoing agitation in Assam against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 seemed to have provided a perfect opportunity for ULFA to expand its support base in pockets having a presence of Bengali Hindus.

The author is a senior journalist based in Assam and author of Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India’s Most Wanted Men and Lens and the Guerrilla: Insurgency in India’s Northeast

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Updated Date: Nov 02, 2018 15:35:26 IST