For the first time, the Centre on Thursday held unconditional talks with the banned ULFA and said it was “confident” of finding a “just and honourable solution” to the over three decade-old insurgency problem in Assam.
During the hour-long deliberations, it was decided that a seven-member group will be formed to discuss modalities of carrying forward the peace process.
The group will have Joint Secretary (northeast) as its coordinator and comprise three ULFA members and two representatives each of the state and Central governments.
The group will discuss about designated camps, surrender policy, deposit of arms and other nitty-gritty for maintaining peace in the state.
The pro-talk group is unlikely to interfere if government launches operations against those members indulging in violence.
The eight-member ULFA delegation led by ‘chairman’ Arabinda Rajkhowa met Home Minister P Chidambaram before going into a full session with senior officials led by Home Secretary G K Pillai.
“As you are aware that they (ULFA) have offered unconditional talks with Government of India and Government of Assam to find out a honourable and just solution to the issues raised by them”.
“I welcome them. I assured them that the government of India and government of Assam will engage them in sincere and meaningful talks and I am confident that we will find a just and honourable solution,” Chidambaram said.
“They called on me which is a courtesy call… These are very preliminary stages (of talks), you (media) should cooperate and they will feel confident which will help to find a solution through talks,” he said.
This is the first time that such unconditional talks are being held in ULFA’s 31-year-old history.
The meeting was also attended by Assam Chief Secretary N K Das, Additional DGP Khagen Sharma, Assam Home Commissioner Jishnu Barua, Centre’s interlocutor P C Haldar, Secretary (Internal Security) U K Bansal and IB chief N Sandhu.
Apart from Rajkhowa, ‘vice-chairman’ Pradip Gogoi, ‘political advisor’ Bhimakanta Buragohain, ‘foreign secretary’ Sasha Choudhury, ‘finance secretary’ Chitrabon Hazarika, ‘cultural secretary’ Pranati Deka, ‘publicity secretary’ Mithinga Daimary and ‘deputy commander-in-chief’ Raju Barua participated in the talks.
Later addressing a crowded press conference, Choudhury said ULFA was hopeful that the insurgency problem in Assam can be solved through an amendment in the Constitution and made it clear that it will not participate in the forthcoming polls.
“Through the talks, therefore, we proposed to evaluate various facets of the Constitution and to explore the viability of protection and enrichment of the sovereignty of the people of Assam in all its dimensions-political, social and cultural, within the flexibility as mentioned by the prime minister,” Choudhury said.
During the press conference, ‘vice-chairman’ Gogoi and ‘finance secretary’ Hazarika were also present but only Choudhury took questions from journalists.
Declaring that the agenda of the future talks with the government and ULFA’s demands would be decided by the “people of Assam”, he said it was necessary to amend the Constitution to fulfil the hopes and aspirations of the people.
Asked what would be the role of ULFA in the coming Assam Assembly elections due in April-May, Choudhury said the group would not participate in the polls.
“Time and again we have been saying that we will have zero involvement in the polls,” he said.
However, he said, ULFA cannot mention anything what would be the role of its supporters in the elections.
On the possibility of declaring a ceasefire, Choudhury said the initiative has to come from the government.
“Anyway, we have not indulged in violence in last one year,” he said.
Asked about the opposition of ‘commander-in-chief’ Paresh Baruah to the dialogue process, he said it was a decision of the group’s highest decision making body general council.
“Baruah is still our commander-in-chief,” he said.
He said the ULFA is still a banned group and its members outlawed but they are trying to be a “good citizen” to bring a lasting solution to the “conflict”.
On 5th February, the ULFA announced that it will sit for unconditional talks with the Centre “respecting the wishes of the people of Assam”.
It also apologised for the violent acts it committed.
The ULFA delegation arrived in the national capital last evening.
Before leaving for Delhi, the leaders met Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and sought his cooperation to take forward the peace process with the Centre.
The ULFA leaders released from jail recently decided to hold unconditional talks with the government but the faction led by the group’s ‘commander-in-chief’ Barua is opposed to it.
The ULFA delegation is also likely to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 13th February after his return from Kerala.