Dibrugarh, Jan 3: The pro-talks faction of ULFA has expressed doubts over the Centre's "sincerity" in taking forward the decade-long peace parleys with it, claiming that no dialogue has been held in the last two years and there was no government interlocutor at present to take the process forward.
The faction alleged that there has been "not much progress" in the peace talks with it since the Narendra Modi government came to power, though the negotiations had reached the final stages during former prime minister Manmohan Singh's tenure.
It also maintained that the hardliner ULFA(I) chief Paresh Barua is unlikely to come forward for negotiations until the parleys with the pro-talks faction are completed. The allegations come at a time when Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is trying to bring Barua to the negotiating table for a settlement with all factions of the group.
Talking to PTI, former self-styled general secretary of ULFA and pro-talks faction leader Anup Chetia said, "The last round of talks with the government was held in January 2020. The term of the government interlocutor ended in March that year."
"After that, there has been no contact with us. Still, we are waiting with hope that our issues will be addressed and resolved by the government," he said.
Maintaining that the government is "more responsible" for taking forward the peace talks than the militant group, Chetia added, "There are reasons for us to doubt the sincerity of the government."
Another senior pro-talks ULFA leader Mrinal Hazarika said, "Sincerity of the government seems to be lacking. Discussions were almost over and in the final stages during Manmohan Singh's tenure. But there has not been much progress after Narendra Modi's government came to power."
He also maintained that the government was indulging in "delaying tactics" in resolving the ULFA pro-talks faction's demands, which were broadly based on ensuring economic, cultural, political and linguistic safeguards for the indigenous people of Assam.
"The BJP supports 'Ek Bharat, Shrestha Bharat' (one India, greatest India) policy, through which they want to paint everyone with the same brush. That's why they are trying to delay granting our safeguards," Hazarika said.
On the government's overtures to Paresh Barua to come for talks, Chetia said, "I have heard Barua tell the media that he wants the government to complete the negotiations with us first."
"He also perhaps fears that his condition will be like ours and no progress will be made towards an actual resolution of all issues," he added.
Hazarika also spoke on similar lines and added, "It won't be possible for the Paresh Barua group and our faction to be clubbed together for the talks. Our demands are a reflection of the aspirations of civil society, while this is a one-point agenda of sovereignty."
A top Assam Police officer privy to the ULFA-government talks, speaking to PTI on condition of anonymity, accepted that there has been some "stagnancy" in the process.
"The interlocutor is yet to be appointed. Yes, there has been some stagnancy, but various factors contribute to it," he said. The officer added that change in government and top positions also lead to delay in such peace talks. As per Hazarika, there are over 1,000 pro-talks ULFA cadres, staying in nine camps as well as outside, living off the stipend provided by the government.
Hazarika added that the first lot of ULFA cadres and leaders, including himself, had come forward for talks in 2008, while extradition of top leaders of the outfit, including its self-styled 'chairman' Arabinda Rajkhowa, from Bangladesh, where they were imprisoned, had started in 2010. The formal peace talks with the pro-talks faction commenced in 2011.
Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had on January 1 said that bringing ULFA(I) to the negotiation table is the "last hurdle" in bringing peace to the state.
Sarma said he has learnt from his personal interactions with the people who are directly or indirectly in touch with ULFA(I) chief Barua that the militant wants a negotiated settlement with the government.
"The stumbling block is 'sovereignty'. The ULFA(I) will want a discussion over it, which we cannot hold. We are working on breaking the deadlock," Sarma said.
The chief minister, after taking oath on May 10, had appealed to the ULFA(I) to come forward for peace talks and resolve the 42-year old insurgency problem in the state.
The hardliner faction of the outfit had responded with a declaration of unilateral ceasefire the same month for three months, which it has been expanding since.
While terming the unilateral ceasefire a "positive step", Sarma said that the government has also reciprocate the gesture by not engaging in any "direct conflict" with the outfit in the last eight months.
Sarma had also claimed last year that an informal channel of communication had been initiated with the ULFA(I) and he was hopeful that the "matter will be resolved in the next two to three years".
Barua also claimed that no other previous chief minister had shown "this kind of genuine interest to resolve the issue like Sarma has been doing since he assumed office".
"He has been able to assure the people of Assam that a solution may be possible and so we are also hopeful. In an armed struggle, operations and negotiations continue simultaneously. We are not opposed to dialogue and our doors for talks are always open," he said.
Barua said that informal talks have taken place at different times during the rule of previous chief ministers including late Congress chief minister Hiteswar Saikia but "it did not move in the right direction".
Two-time Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta also made a partial attempt for dialogue but it also failed to move ahead while late Congress chief minister Tarun Gogoi initially did take steps to resolve the problem but did not take it forward.