The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is considering a new strategy in the upcoming Assam Assembly elections, by trying to pursuade the government to arrive at a peace accord with the organisation.
A senior BJP leader in Delhi said, “peace accord with the ULFA is vital to the BJP’s prospects in the state. It has the potential of influencing the outcome. The decision over the demands will be taken after careful deliberation. Also, the government is keen on striking a peace accord with ULFA, especially with the Assam elections so near. The outcome of these talks can win us a large chunk of the vote share.”
If the government accepts the demand, Chetia will get bail so that he can join the dialogue. “The next round of talks with the Centre would be held in December in which Chetia is expected to take part,” said ULFA leader Shashadhar Choudhury.
The government has handed an olive branch to the United Liberation Front of Assam’s (ULFA) pro-talks faction last week in order to strike a peace accord. However, the ULFA leaders declined the offer saying they want the ULFA general secretary, Anup Chetia, to be included in the dialogue. Anup Chetia alias Golap Baruah is one of the founders of the ULFA. He was in a Bangladeshi jail since 1997 and was extradited to India on 11 November this year. He is currently inside the Guwahati Central Jail in Assam.
The demand came from a ULFA delegation led by Arabinda Rajkhowa who is the chairman of the ULFA’s pro-talks faction. In a meeting with Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi, ULFA leaders demanded the inclusion of Chetia in the peace dialogue, otherwise they will not take part in any political discussion. “There will be no political discussion without ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia’s participation in the talks. We have appealed to the government to ensure his early release from judicial custody so that he can join us. Otherwise, the peace process would remain inconclusive,” Rajkhowa told reporters after his meeting with Mehrishi.
The official statement put out by the government said that, “the Union Home Secretary suggested to the government of India’s Representative (P.C. Haldar) to examine the request of ULFA leaders. Discussions were cordial and it was agreed to meet again as soon as mutually convenient to move the peace process forward.” Congress leader and Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi also appealed to the Centre on Wednesday for Chetia’s participation in the peace dialogue. “The state government had been pursuing the Centre for Anup Chetia’s repatriation. It is imperative that he is included in the dialogue. He is a key figure and he can play a decisive role in the peace process,” Gogoi told this newspaper.
Former Assam BJP president Siddhartha Bhattacharya had said that the “Bihar failure gives us an opportunity to revise and redraw our strategy.” With the Assembly elections around the corner in the north eastern state, some believe this can be a decisive factor. Assam’s 126 Assembly seats will go to polls in April next year. After the Grand Alliance won in Bihar, Tarun Gogoi also suggested creating a similar alliance to counter the BJP. The BJP has also responded in an apparent measure of course-correction.
In a meeting with reporters in the capital, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju revealed some of the offers that the Centre has been considering for Assam. Topping the list is the prospect of granting of Scheduled Tribe status to six communities in Assam, which are Moran, Tai Ahom, Koch Rajbonshi, Sootea, Motok and Tea tribes. More than a third of the population in the state belongs to these tribes. Rijiju revealed that “the file is now with the Prime Minister. After his approval, the proposal will be placed before the Union Cabinet and then Parliament”.
As it stands, 16 seats are reserved for the STs in the Assam Assembly. Granting ST status to these communities will result in the reservation of 80 out of 126 constituencies after the next delimitation exercise.