//The ULFA: Assam's Hindu terrorists

The ULFA: Assam's Hindu terrorists

By Amulya Ganguli, [RxPG ] India has had the misfortune of experiencing Sikh, Muslim and Hindu terrorism. The Sikh insurgency, inspired by the concept of an independent Khalistan, has died down after a decade of violence in the 80s. Muslim terrorism, too, is now a little less threatening than before as Pakistan is coming under pressure from the US to reduce its so-called moral, political and diplomatic support to the 'freedom fighters' in Jammu and Kashmir.

Hindu terrorism, however, reappeared in a virulent form in Assam recently when more than 60 migrant labourers from Bihar were killed by the United Liberation Front of Asom – militants. All the three insurgencies have enjoyed the covert support of Pakistan and Bangladesh. But there is a curious aspect about the ULFA's marauding tactics, of which the attack on the Bihar Hindu labourers was a prime example.

Although the Sikh and Muslim terrorists mainly targeted Hindus, a large number of Sikhs and Muslims also died as a result of their depredation, like bomb blasts in crowded places.

The ULFA, however, has taken care to see that the Muslims do not come to any harm in Assam presumably because of its close links with Bangladesh. This attitude is in striking contrast to the origin of the movement for a 'swadhin' – Assam.

Based on a feeling of neglect by New Delhi and the rest of India towards the Assamese, the secessionist ideas received a boost with the launching of an agitation in 1979 against the illegal immigrants from Bangladesh by the All Assam Students Union -.

The AASU's case was that the unchecked inflow from the neighbouring country was upsetting Assam's demographic and denominational balance.

Since the immigrants were Muslims, the AASU received vociferous support from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, and especially one of its most vocal members, Arun Shourie, who became some kind of a hero to the AASU.

However, the campaign against the Bangladeshis soon engendered so much violence that the Bengalis from West Bengal, mainly Hindus, also began to feel the heat and started leaving Assam.

It has to be remembered that the Bengalis were the targets in the 1960s of a now virtually defunct militant Assamese outfit, the Lachit Sena.

During the AASU's agitation, therefore, the earlier animus against the Bengalis combined with the more recent antagonism against the Bangladeshis – both communities speak the same language – to culminate in the infamous Nellie massacre of 1983, whose pictures of murdered children shocked India and the world.

Perhaps realising that the movement was getting out of hand, the AASU agreed to a pact with the Rajiv Gandhi government, leading to the termination of its agitation. The organisation also came to power in Assam in 1985 under the name of Asom Gana Parishad.

But the end of the AASU's anti-foreigner movement did not entail the curbing of chauvinistic instincts in the state, entertained mainly by the upper and middle class Hindus of the Brahmaputra valley.

In place of the AASU, which had become a part of the establishment committed to finding a peaceful solution to the problem of Bangladeshi immigrants, the ULFA began to make its presence felt. Drawing support from the social groups, which had earlier backed the AASU, it ratcheted up its demand from the eviction of aliens to independence, which was a sub-text in the AASU's agitation as well.

Since the ULFA was an underground organisation from the start -, it had to find shelter in neighbouring countries like Bhutan and Bangladesh. After it was driven out of Bhutan by a combined operation of the Indian and Bhutanese security forces, Bangladesh proved to be its main sanctuary. The two senior leaders of the outfit, Arabinda Rajkhowa and Paresh Barua, are said to live there.

But an outcome of the help the ULFA is receiving from Bangladesh is that it has had to dissociate itself from the campaign against illegal immigrants, which was a cornerstone of Assamese parochialism from the time of the Lachit Sena.

Nor can the ULFA turn against the Bengalis, as the Lachit Sena did, because the experience of the AASU's movement showed that the people from West Bengal, too, became victims of the agitation against the Bangladeshis.

Secondly, the ULFA has to avoid harming the Muslim communities lest this should anger its patrons in Dhaka, which reportedly includes the Inter-services Intelligence – of Pakistan, apart from the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence – of Bangladesh.

This somersault of the ULFA from the Lachit Sena-AASU line explains why it launched a vicious attack on the poor Bihari Hindu labourers. It had to undertake the operation to please its DGFI-ISI mentors in Dhaka and also to keep up its 'revolutionary' credentials in the eyes of its dwindling group of supporters in Assam.

But since it could attack neither the Bangladeshis nor the Bengalis, the Biharis had to be singled out. While the other uprisings in the northeast, such as the one by the Nagas, are subsiding because of the cooperation between India and Myanmar, where some of the rebels are based, the ULFA can expect to continue for some more time because of the help it is receiving from both Pakistan and Bangladesh.

But since its targets are now Hindus, it cannot but alienate its base of support in Assam. As a result, the security forces should not find it too difficult to ferret them out from its hideouts.

The ULFA, however, is probably the only group of terrorists, which attacks members of its own religious community because it is being sustained by the fanatics of another religion in neighbouring countries.