Guwahati: The commander-in-chief (c-in-c) of the banned United Liberation Front of Assam (Independent) or ULFA(I), Paresh Baruah, told ThePrint Friday that a “positive result” can be expected in the abduction of two employees of an oil firm, in the coming days.
Speaking to ThePrint from an unknown number Friday, Baruah said “the negotiation is going on a good stead” with the New Delhi-headquartered Quippo Oil and Gas Infrastructure Limited, where the two men are employed.
“Maybe after two to three days, we can inform the media. We are hopeful to get some positive results,” he said.
The abduction has brought Baruah back into the limelight. He has been leading the ULFA(I), a breakaway faction of secessionist ULFA, since 2012 when the parent organisation opted for talks with the Indian government without preconditions.
On 21 December last year, Quippo’s drilling superintendent Pranab Kumar Gogoi, 51, and radio operator Ram Kumar, 35, were abducted by ULFA(I) insurgents from the Kumchaikha hydrocarbon drilling site near Innao in Arunachal Pradesh’s Changlang district that borders Myanmar.
ULFA(I) reportedly demanded Rs 20 crore for the men and had set 16 February as the deadline for the ransom payment.
Last Sunday, Baruah called up journalists in Assam to say that it has “deferred action” against the two officials and that the “deadline set for their release has been extended”, after earlier in the week threatening to take the “ultimate action” against the two.
Asked why the outfit chose Quippo, Baruah said it was an “internal organisational matter”, which cannot be disclosed.
ULFA and militancy
ULFA owes its origins to the six-year-long Assam Movement that began in 1979. The movement sought the detection of illegal immigrants, their deletion from the voters’ list and deportation to Bangladesh.
The group remained inactive until the mid-1980s. The Assam Accord was subsequently signed in 1985 to resolve the immigrant issue.
The extremist faction of the movement that was always skeptical about the much-hyped “constitutional safeguard” for Assamese, broke away to form the ULFA.
While secession from India was ULFA’s declared goal, it has consistently stood against illegal immigration — a hot-button issue in Assam. Over the years, its agenda has included many other issues such as scrapping the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA).
Baruah joined the group in 1981. He had played football for Oil India, and was a goalkeeper. He was part of the second wave of ULFA leaders along with Arabinda Rajkhowa (Ranjan Rajkumar), Anup Chetia (Golap Baruah) and a few others from Nalbari.
The initial leaders of the group were either caught by police or surrendered. They came overground leaving the outfit.
A video appeal by the two employees released by the outfit in January highlighted the close ties that ULFA(I) maintains with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN). The video showed that the two abducted men were not only in custody of ULFA (I) but also that of the NSCN.
When ULFA was formed, the NSCN was one outfit. But due to personality clash between NSCN leaders Muivah and Khaplang, it split. ULFA found it convenient to remain with Khaplang because of strategic reasons. The area of ULFA’s passage to Myanmar and onward to Unan province of China was controlled by the Khaplang group or the NSCN-K.
While it is not clear which faction of the NSCN is involved in the incident, the Changlang Police had earlier suspected the Myanmar-based NSCN-K to be behind the abductions. The NSCN(IM) in Nagaland, which is currently negotiating a peace deal with the Modi government, denied allegations of being involved in the incident.
‘60% support for ULFA in Assam’
Paresh Baruah believes that despite the social media backlash over the Quippo abductions, the outfit still enjoys “60 per cent support” in Assam.
“For any action, there’s a reaction, it’s natural. And in those reactions, some might make certain comments,” the ULFA commander said. “But despite a section condemning us, reprimanding us, 60 per cent still support us.”
Baruah further said that a section of people commenting on social media are not the voice of the people.
“Not everyone is on social media,” he told ThePrint. “Some people may comment, but it cannot be the voice of everyone — of those at the grassroots level and of people living in rural areas. We have found that support.”
‘State employing strategies to overpower people’
Ahead of the assembly election that begins 27 March, Assam Governor Jagdish Mukhi declared the entire state a ‘disturbed area’ under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) for six months starting 27 February.
Baruah called it one of the many strategies by the state to “overpower” people.
“These are strategies that we have seen since the Assam Movement to make people weak and suppress them,” he said. “Secret killings happened against the ULFA; they keep bringing these legislations to only push people to the brink of death.”
“If people are free to decide, if there’s a referendum — no one can guarantee how many would turn up or what percentage would support us,” Baruah added.