The United Liberation Front of Assam-Independent or the ULFA(I), led by Paresh Baruah, is ready to sit across the table from the government for negotiation talks on a single-point agenda of “sovereignty”. But, is it possible for the Centre to accept such terms?
Baruah told News18, “We are not against the talk with GoI (Government of India). We have always been ready for talks on our core issue of ‘sovereignty’.” The ULFA(I) leader was speaking from an undisclosed location.
“The chief minister of Assam, Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma, wants to start talks with us and we are confident about him. We already cleared our stand on our position. Now, the ball is in his court,” Baruah added.
On a positive note, the Assam chief minister expressed hopes on taking the middle path between Assam’s and India’s sovereignty, which will be conducive for starting a conversation with the banned rebel group. Sarma said if the ULFA(I) and the government could find an honourable position, then talks could begin.
“We are in a very peculiar situation. Paresh Baruah wants to talk on the issue of (Assam’s) sovereignty, while I have taken oath as chief minister to protect the country’s sovereignty. To start talks, either he has to change his stand or I have to defy my oath. Since Paresh Baruah is not changing his stand and, if I defy my oath, I will have to leave my post; we will have to find a middle ground,” the CM said a few days ago in Guwahati.
“The word is not a terminology for us but is solemn and we take oath that it is our duty to protect our sovereignty and not cede an inch of our land. For him, too, there is a compulsion; so, there is a need to arrive at a certain definition that can address our issues,” he added.
The Arabinda Rajkhowa and Anup Chetia-led pro-talk faction of the ULFA is ready to sit at the negotiation table with the Baruah-led ULFA(I) if the latter is agreeable. ULFA general secretary Chetia told News18, “We are ready to sit on the same table with Paresh Baruah, we have no hesitation about it. We have no issues in discussing the protection and development of Assamese people with Paresh Baruah if he agrees.”
Regarding negotiation updates with the Centre, Chetia said, “We are ready to sign the agreement with the Centre, if two main points are agreed upon. One is political power to the indigenous peoples of Assam, and the other is constitutional safeguards for them. Third one is the economic right to Assamese people. The first two are yet to be agreed upon at a negotiation table. We are hopeful that the issue of economic power is agreed upon with the Centre in some hours.”
The ULFA’s 12-point demand charter was formally handed over to the Centre on August 5, 2011. The demands were, however, only of a nature that characterised a broad parameter. These have been scrapped by ULFA (pro-talk) chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, from a 37-page charter presented to the pro-talk group by Sanmilito Jatiyo Abhiborton that set up the meeting between the two parties.
The final agreement between Isaac Muivah-led National Socialist Council for Nagalim (NSCN-IM) and the Centre is yet to be signed over the demand of a separate flag and constitution. On May 26, the NSCN-IM said in clear terms that it will not accept the ‘Naga national flag’ as a cultural flag as hinted by the Centre.
“It is unthinkable for the NSCN to accept the Naga national flag as a cultural flag as hinted by the Government of India. The Naga national flag that symbolises Naga political identity is non-negotiable,” the NSCN-IM said in the editorial of its latest news bulletin Nagalim Voice.
The statement comes against the backdrop of reports from Nagaland that the Centre has offered that the Naga national flag could be used for cultural purposes and there will be some reflection on the Naga constitution in India’s Constitution.
The NSCN-IM said when the framework agreement was signed on August 3, 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi went “histrionic” by announcing he had solved the longest-running insurgency movement in Southeast Asia. “Today, the NSCN is watching how the same PM of India is going to handle the framework agreement with NSCN and Naga people that he took so much pride and credit for,” the editorial reads.
Regarding the demand of separate flag and constitution of the NSCN-IM, Chetia said, “Our demands are not same as the NSCN-IM, we are not demanding any flag or constitution. We are negotiating within the boundary of the Indian Constitution.”
In 2019, when talks between the Centre and NSCN-IM reportedly reached the final stage, former commander-in-chief Phungting Shimrang and some of his comrades were said to be camping in China and trying to convince the Sino leadership to help them fight for its cause against the Indian government.
On Shimrang, recently surrendered ULFA(I) finance secretary Jeevan Moran said, “Shimrang and his comrades are camping inside Myanmar and there is no confrontation between NSCN-IM and Yung Aung-led NSCN-K. Both groups well understand the need for greater Naga issues.”
In 1975, the separatist Naga National Council (NNC) gave up violence and signed the Shillong Accord with the central government. Some NNC leaders disapproved of this peace treaty, including Isak Chishi Swu, Thuingaleng Muivah and SS Khaplang. These leaders formed the NSCN as a new separatist organisation in 1980, which has been described as a breakaway group of the Naga National Council.
The NSCN started an underground Naga federal government with civil and military wings. Later, a disagreement surfaced within the outfit leaders over the issue of commencing dialogue with the Centre.
On April 30, 1988, the NSCN split into two factions: the NSCN-K led by Khaplang, and the NSCN-IM, led by Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah. The split was accompanied by a spate of violence and clashes between the factions.
In 1997, a ceasefire agreement was made between the NSCN and the government. Later, the NSCN-K abrogated the ceasefire agreement.