Much blood has flown with the waters of the Brahmaputra basin and much has happened over the decades to undo the efforts of Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi in ensuring that Assam remained part of India and not erstwhile East Pakistan.
After India’s Independence, he worked closely with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to secure Assam’s sovereignty vis a vis China and East Pakistan and also helped to organise the rehabilitation of millions of Hindu refugees who had fled East Pakistan due to widespread violence and intimidation in the aftermath of Partition. However, illegal migrants from East Pakistan till 1971 and Bangladesh thereafter, continuously poured into Assam and settling there and eventually spreading to many other parts of India, swelling the large number in West Bengal too.
In October 1962, when China attacked India, then Prime Minister Pandit Jawarlal Nehru made the damning statement ‘my heart goes out to the people of Assam’. Two decades later the Assam agitation got going on the ‘foreigners’ issue culminating into lot of bloodshed, signified by Nellie and seven neighboring villages of Nagaon district, where Muslims were killed in broad daylight because they had taken part in the election and cast their vote, against the warning of those opposing the election.
The official figure of those brutally killed stood at 2,191. Then came the Assam Accord, a new political party Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and a new armed group United Liberation Front of Asom, which claimed to champion the cause of exploitation of the people of Assam by ‘Delhi Durbar’.
Confronting the State: ULFA’s Quest for Sovereignty by Nani Gopal Mahanta, which examines the complex nuances and dynamics that made ULFA a formidable insurgent group and exposes its notorious aspects, is more important as another wake-up call as it dwells on the dicey demographic shifts which have by now affected at least eleven districts of Assam and caused communal tension off and on and riots as recently as mid 2012.
The apt titles of 11 chapters of the book are: From Nationalism to Secessionism: Transformation of Assamese Identity, Assam Movement: Laying the Foundation of an Armed Struggle, Periodising ULFA’s Metamorphosis: From Liberator to Warlord, Parag Das: The Ideologue, ULFOcide, State Terror and Truncated Democracy, What keeps ULFA Going: Endogenous and Exogenous Factors, What Sustains ULFA?, ULFA in International Network: From Grievances to Greed, Peace Process with ULFA, Civil Society and the Indian State, Confronting the State: Exploring Ways for Sustainable Peace and Re-visiting Immigration and Identity: Issues of Human Security, Development and Sustainable Peace.
Through these chapters the author systematically exposes ULFA’s deceit and treachery not only against Delhi/India but also Assam, the welfare of which it claimed to fight for/emancipate Assamese people from the ‘shackles of exploitation and discrimination’.
ULFA was formed on 7 April, 1979 by Rajkhowa, Baruah, and six other cronies, at the Rang Ghar in Sibsagar to establish a ‘sovereign socialist Assam’ through an armed struggle. As the Assam movement against foreigners-i.e. illegal Bangladeshi migrants built up, ULFA got busy in penetrating all departments of the state government/administration as well as researching on the assets of the business community-mainly Marwaris.
It was also its halcyon period of building its Robin Hood image, while simultaneously embarking on a spree of targeting the Marwari community and tea gardens in Assam for large scale extortion at gun-point and point-blank killing of those who failed to pay up or those who earned its ‘displeasure’.
Some of the factors the author mentions causing ULFA’s decline, apart from the mass graves in Lakhipathar and Charaiphung, are the indiscriminate killings of Russian engineer Sergei Grishchenko, activist Sanjay Ghosh and ONGC engineer T S Raju among hundreds of people, support to Pakistan during Kargil war, support to Bangladeshi immigrants and the Dhemaji school bombing on Independence Day in 2004 that claimed over 15 lives, mostly children - not to mention disruption of life in Assam countless times by destroying the state’s public assets and ‘bandhs’.