Assam: State Consolidation

The signing of the peace accords during the current and previous years has helped control the insurgencies in Assam.

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Amit Shah (L) with Arabinda Rajkhowa during signing of the peace deal in New Delhi. (Photo: X/AmitShah)

On December 29, 2023, a tripartite Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) was signed between the pro-talks faction of United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA-PTF), Government of India (GoI) and the Assam Government, in the presence of Union Home Minister (UHM) Amit Shah and Assam Chief Minister (CM) Himanta Biswa Sarma, at New Delhi. A 29-member delegation of the ULFA-PTF, including 16 ULFA-PTF and 13 civil society members, led by ULFA-PTF ‘chairperson’ Arabinda Rajkhowa, signed the agreement. With this MoS, ULFA-PTF has formally agreed to shun violence and join the mainstream. Sources stated that the peace deal encompasses a financial package, new land reservation measures, rights for Assam’s indigenous communities and also a review of the citizenship list.

Terming the event a “golden day for Assam”, UHM Amit Shah noted,

In ULFA conflict, about 10 thousand people from both sides were killed, who were citizens of this country, but today this problem is being completely resolved. The Government of India has agreed to provide a huge package and several big projects for all round development of Assam. The government will comply with all provisions of the agreement.

The details of the agreement, however, have not been made public. It is useful, moreover, to note, that the Independent faction of ULFA (ULFA-I), headed by Paresh Baruah, remains active, though it has made an offer of talks if “sovereignty” was brought to the negotiating table.

Prior to the signing of the MoS with ULFA-PTF, a proposed draft of the tripartite agreement was shared with the ULFA-PTF leadership. Subsequently, on October 25, 2023, the top leadership discussed the proposed draft with other senior leaders and more than 200 cadres from across Assam, in its general council meeting at Kaziranga in Golaghat District, led by Arabinda Rajkhowa and ‘General Secretary’ Anup Chetia. Chetia disclosed that the meeting accepted the proposed draft “after some additions and omissions” and submitted it to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and Prime Minister’s Office “for final approval”. A series of talks with officials-concerned in the Central government took place after the ULFA-PTF delegation arrived in Delhi on December 26, before the signing of the pact.

Earlier, on July 6, 2023, around 1,182 cadres, belonging to as many as eight Adivasi militant groups from Assam, laid down 304 sophisticated arms and 1,460 rounds of ammunition, at a ceremony held at the Srimanata Shankardeva Kalakshetra at Guwahati in the Kamrup (Metro) District of Assam. The Adivasis are tribal groups indigenous to other states, who were brought into Assam by the British as plantation workers in the late 19th Century. The militants who surrendered belonged to the All Adivasi National Liberation Army (AANLA), the Amrit Beck faction of AANLA (AANLA-AB), Birsa Commando Force (BCF), Badal Tudu faction of BCF (BCF-BT), Santhal Tiger Force (STF), Adivasi Cobra Force (ACF)/Adivasi Cobra Military of Assam (ACMA), Chunka Tudu faction of ACMA (ACMA-CT), and the Adivasi People’s Army (APA).

Similarly, on April 27, 2023, a tripartite MoS was signed between the Centre, Assam Government and representatives of the Dimasa National Liberation Army (DNLA) in Delhi. With this, 168 DNLA cadres laid down arms. Under the agreement, DNLA agreed to abjure violence, surrender all arms and ammunition, disband their armed groups, vacate all camps occupied by DNLA cadres and join the mainstream.

Significantly, the GoI has signed at least nine peace and border related agreements in different states in the Northeast over the past five years, to end extremism and bring peace to the this long-troubled region. The other principal agreements with Assam-based groups included:

  • The Bodo Accord was signed on January 27, 2020, to resolve the five-decade-old Bodo issue, resulting in the surrender of 1,615 cadres, with a huge cache of arms and ammunition, at Guwahati, on January 30, 2020.
  • To resolve the long-running dispute in the Karbi regions of Assam, the Karbi Anglong Agreement was signed on September 4, 2021, and more than 1,000 armed cadres renounced violence and joined the mainstream of society.
  • An agreement was signed on March 29, 2022, to settle the dispute over six areas out of a total of twelve, where an interstate boundary dispute between the states of Assam and Meghalaya existed.
  • A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Chief Ministers of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in the presence of UHM Amit Shah on April 20, 2023, over disputed areas along the 800-km shared boundary.

During these five years, around 7,000 insurgents have surrendered in Assam.

These developments have certainly impacted the security situation in the state. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) overall fatalities have declined from 783 (531 civilians, 72 Security Force personnel and 180 insurgents) in 1998, to eight (three civilians and five insurgents) in 2023. Indeed, overall fatalities have remained in single digit since 2019, with an aberration in 2021, at 29 (10 civilians and 19 insurgents). Overall fatalities were in two digits between 2015 and 2018. Between 1992 and 2014, annual fatalities remained continuously in three digits.

Nevertheless, concerns persist. Despite repeated appeals by the Government, the ULFA-I has remained outside the peace process. In fact, there have been several reports of a sudden rise in the ULFA-I activities in Assam. The outfit triggered at least three grenade explosions in Upper Assam, on November 22, December 9 and December 14, in Tinsukia, Sivasagar and Jorhat Districts, respectively, prompting the Police to initiate a state-wide operation, resulting in multiple arrests, prominently including:

  • December 27: Two suspected ULFA-I cadres, identified as ‘Sergeant Major’ Bibek Asom and Mrigen Asom, were arrested during a joint operation by Assam Rifles and Assam Police from Phaneng, near the Assam-Arunachal border in Tinsukia District.
  • December 25: Assam Police arrested Dipu Dowarah from Sivasagar District, over suspected links with ULFA-I.
  • December 24: Suspected ULFA-I cadre Pranjal Das was shot at and injured by Assam Police while trying to flee, at Baihata Chariali in the Salmara area of Kamrup Rural District. He was subsequently arrested.
  • December 23: Two youth, identified as Jayanta Talukdar and Biswajit Saud, were arrested from Nalbari District, over their social media posts on ULFA-I. The arrestees were suspected to have contacts with ULFA-I.
  • December 22: A ULFA-I cadre, Pallabjyoti Gogoi, was injured in a Police encounter and was later arrested from Sivasagar District for his connection to the grenade blast near the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp in Joysagar in Sivasagar District on December 9. 10 pistol bullets and 11 AK47 rounds were seized during the operation.

Moreover, some new groups have come into existence.

On July 28, 2023, ‘commander-in-chief’ Sanjay Engti and a cadre, identified as Rajesh Phangso, of a newly floated extremist group, United Peoples Front of Karbi Longri (UPFKL) were arrested by the Assam Police in a joint operation with the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Karbi Anglong District. One 9mm pistol with a magazine and four rounds of live ammunition, one .22 pistol with a magazine and five rounds of live ammunition, three hand grenades and two detonators were recovered from them. 41 UPFKL letterheads were also recovered.

On February 1, 2023, a new militant outfit, the Boro Liberation Army (BLA), emerged in the Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) of Assam, demanding a separate ‘Bodoland’ state.

On October 1, 2023, Gyanendra Pratap Singh, Director General of Police (DGP), Assam, announced that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) had been extended in four Districts of the State – Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Sivasagar and Charaideo – for another six months, while it was withdrawn from four Districts – Jorhat, Golaghat, Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao – with effect from October 1.

The signing of the peace accords during the current and previous years has helped control the insurgencies in Assam. The state’s security situation has significantly improved and the peace agreements brought greater stability. The peace agreement with ULFA-PTF takes this process further. However, the bigger challenge remains in the form of ULFA-I. Moreover, the region continuous to suffer from several developmental deficits and is riddled with tribal rivalries, creating significant conflict potential which could be actualized in the event of political mismanagement. The situation in Manipur is a case in point.

Afsara Shaheen

Afsara Shaheen is a Research Assistant at the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, India

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