'Citizenship bill will fuel ‘sovereign Assam’ demand'

'Citizenship bill will fuel ‘sovereign Assam’ demand'

Ulfa general secretary Anup Chetia in Guwahati. photo by Manash Das

The agitations against "illegal migration" from Bangladesh had given birth to United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa), a militant group in 1979.

After leading an "armed battle for sovereign Assam" for 30 years, the outfit agreed to scale down its demand and joined talks in 2010, after most of its top leaders were arrested in Bangladesh and "pushed back" to India. Another faction of the outfit, which renamed itself as Ulfa (Independent), led by Paresh Baruah, however, is till bent on the sovereignty demand.

With Assam witnessing strong agitations against the NDA’s Citizenship Amendment Bill, Anup Chetia, Ulfa’s founder and general secretary, in an interview to Sumir Karmakar of DH warned that the demand for sovereign Assam can again gain strength if the bill is not withdrawn. Chetia joined the ongoing talks in 2015 after he was extradited from Bangladesh, where he was arrested in 1997.

Despite joining peace talks, you have been part of the protest against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. It has now been passed by the Lok Sabha, so what is your immediate reaction?

The bill is destructive for the indigenous Assamese as it seeks to offer citizenship to Hindu illegal migrants. We all must unite, come to the streets, protest and force the government to withdraw it. The BJP government has shown arrogance by ignoring the protests, and so we all must fight together now.

Will this have any impact on Ulfa-government talks?

We will soon have a meeting and discuss this, but personally, I am not in favour of the talks now. What is the logic of talks when the government is bent on giving citizenship to so many illegal migrants? After all, protecting the identity of the indigenous people against foreigners is the core of our fight.

Some new youths are joining Ulfa (Independent) and have blamed the bill in their social media posts. Reactions?

Youths are going. We have alerted the government but instead, they have levelled allegation on me that I have instigated them to take up arms. It is not true. They are going on their own and have announced their decision on social media. Even intellectuals like Hiren Gohain and activist Akhil Gogoi, who have always been against Ulfa’s demand for sovereignty, are now talking about sovereign Assam. The demand for sovereignty will gain more strength if the majority public voice is neglected like it happened when we decided to take up arms in the middle of the Assam Agitation (1979-1985).

Were you expecting a final agreement with the Centre before Lok Sabha elections?     

Constitutional safeguard of indigenous people is our main demand. But what is its use if the bill is passed to give citizenship to illegal migrants, just because they are Hindus? Also, the government has not yet accepted the list of nearly 3,000 of our cadres, which we had submitted for rehabilitation. We also want the cases pending against our members be withdrawn.

So, Ulfa members will also be on the streets?

People are spontaneously coming out. The situation may turn volatile as protesters are pelting stones, damaging vehicles and burning effigies. We are not asking people to be violent but they are losing patience.