Ulfa's misplaced sense of aggression against Dalai Lama underscores its eagerness to keep China happy

Renowned Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy’s magnum opus ‘War and Peace’ beautifully captures the history of French invasion of Russia and the impact of Napoleonic era on Tsarist society. It is considered to be one of finest novels ever written on this planet. However, on an entirely opposite note, Ulfa (Independent)’s gratuitous warning on the eve of the 14th Dalai Lama’s ensuing visit to Assam and Arunachal Pradesh could be branded as a war on peace. The Dalai Lama has been steadfastly trying to evolve a narrative of tranquility and peaceful coexistence not only for the Tibetans, but also for all other people of the world who have not jettisoned their faith in humanitarian and egalitarian ethos.

The Dalai Lama is scheduled to arrive in Guwahati on 1 April, 2017 on a 12 day visit to the Northeast. He is supposed to attend the Namami Brahmaputra festival organised with lot of fanfare by the Assam government in order to highlight the centrality of the river in the lives of the people of Assam as well as its tourism potential. Among other public meetings, his proposed programmes in Gauhati University and Dibrugarh University have already evinced great curiosity among students, teachers and academics and it is safe to presume that both these events will be watched with abiding interest by many. Thereafter, he will be in Arunachal Pradesh from 5 to 12 April. During that period, he is likely to visit Tawang, Dirang, Bomdila, Itanagar and Lumla.

China had earlier told India, in no uncertain terms, that allowing the Tibetan leader to visit Arunachal Pradesh would jeopardise the bilateral relation between the two countries. They had also indicated the likely damage the whole incident may cause as regards peace and stability in the contested border region. China considers Arunachal Pradesh as a disputed territory and refers to the region as South Tibet. India, on the other hand, considers the state as an inalienable part of the country. It is, in this messy context, Ulfa(I)'s caveat to the Dalai Lama has to be analysed. It is becoming quite clear to any observer about the organisation’s growing sense of disquiet after the news of his proposed visit.

A dispassionate scrutiny of contemporary world history reveals that any guerrilla organisation fighting for a cause from the soil of a neighbouring country sometimes has to make certain statements which may not conform to its core philosophy. It is dictated more by extraneous geo-political considerations than by any long-cherished principles. However, in those instances too, a semblance of rationality is often found. But that is something totally missing from the recent outburst of Ulfa (I) chairman Abhizeet Asom against the Dalai Lama. Its misplaced sense of aggression while criticising the Tibetan leader, underscores its eagerness to bend over backwards to keep the Chinese authorities in good humour. Indian security agencies believed that as Ulfa(I)’s main leader Paresh Baruah is currently controlling the activities of the organisation from the Yunan province of China, they have been forced to repeat the tired rhetoric embedded in all official Chinese statements pertaining to Arunachal Pradesh.

 Ulfas misplaced sense of aggression against Dalai Lama underscores its eagerness to keep China happy

File image of Dalai Lama. Reuters

But Ulfa (I)’s blatant capitulation to the Chinese authorities has come as a big shock even to those Assamese who still harbour a faintly positive attitude towards the organisation. Ulfa during its heydays (late eighties and nineties of the last century) was quite popular among many Assamese people of the Brahmaputra valley. Though the majority of the supporters were not comfortable with its main demand of secession from India, they felt that a powerful organisation was necessary to get the voice of a peripheral region heard in the corridors of power in Lutyen’s Delhi.

But gradually, the organisation’s undue emphasis on collection of money and weapons in the name of furthering the ‘revolution’ led to mindless violence throughout the state. It witnessed a period marked by growing disillusionment and anger amid its supporters. In their bloody conflict with the security agencies, many innocent people lost their lives and several thousands were permanently maimed. It is estimated that more than ten thousand local youths perished during that turbulent period. In the process, owing to the twin factors of increasing pressure by the security agencies and dwindling support among its core sympathisers, its importance in Assam has been steadily declining. Ulfa(I) leadership is intelligent enough to understand this slipping of the ground beneath their feet much to their collective dismay. But strangely, what they chose to do in the run-up to the Dalai Lama’s visit ends up underlining the fact that their intelligence has perhaps run out of steam.

The Dalai Lama is a world famous religious leader and a peace activist who has never veered away from the path of non-violence while fighting for Tibetan independence from the clutches of the Chinese. Such is his stature today that many analysts feel the conferment of the Nobel Peace Prize on him in the year 1989 enhanced the prestige of the honour instead of being the other way round. On the other hand, the Assamese people are also very famous for their terrific sense of hospitality, a fact continually pointed out by almost all important visitors to the state starting from Mahatma Gandhi.

In the backdrop of all this, people have been astounded at the ease with which Ulfa(I) has tied itself up in knots over his visit. The prejudiced manner in which the organisation has been interpreting the complex geo-political history of the whole region only to get some brownie points in the eyes of the Chinese authorities has destroyed whatever little public support it has retained in the collective consciousness of the common Assamese people. The memories of brutal assassination of the popular social activist Sanjay Ghose at Majuli in 1997 and the killing of innocent school children participating in the Independence Day celebration at Dhemaji in 2004 are again becoming fresh in people’s minds.

Asom also adroitly tried to catch the fancy of the Dalai Lama by mixing up the issue of India’s ‘occupation and brutal oppression’ of Assam with 855 martyrs which fell to the police brutalities during the historic anti-foreigners Assam Movement of 1979-85. The Assam Movement was spearheaded by the powerful All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and it was by and large non-violent in nature. The agitation symbolised a spirit of mass disaffection of the majority of the Assamese with the vote bank politics of some political parties due to which the very existence of indigenous people was gravely threatened. The Assamese people are still emotionally attached with the ethos of that agitation. Therefore Ulfa(I) tried to invoke its name in order to garner some popular support. But the way in which their rant against the Tibetan leader has misfired is nothing but a commentary about the fact that no war on peace will be supported by the people on a sustainable basis.

The author tweets @mayurbora07

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Updated Date: Mar 31, 2017 15:33:36 IST