India's Prime Minister, Mr. Manmohan Singh filed his papers for elections to the Rajya Sabha from Assam on 9 May. On submitting the papers he stated, "I am grateful to the people of Assam and all the legislators for giving me yet another opportunity to seek re-election to the Rajya Sabha." Committing to sustained development of the state he went on to add, "I am committed to work for sustainable, balanced and equitable development of Assam. I have tried my best in the past and I would continue to do so in the future."
A few days later, Indian External Affairs Minister, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee announced in the Indian Parliament that there were more than 1.5 million migrants from Bangladesh who had settled in India. Some sources say that this figure could be even 5 to 10 times this number. Most of these migrants have settled in Assam. The United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), a banned terrorist organization is active in the state, regularly accused of kidnapping, extortion and assassinations. In January this year, it targeted non Assamese labor who had settled in the state since the beginning of the last Century some say at the behest of its masters the ubiquitous Inter Services Intelligence of Pakistan.
There are many other inimical organizations of varied hues representing the state's multi ethnic communities who have held Guwahati to ransom over the years. It may seem ironic that a state which is represented by the Prime Minister of a country has festering sores which erupt from time to time questioning Mr. Singh's commitment to the constituency he represents.
But to those who regularly follow the Indian security scenario, this may not be a shock. For the Indian state's strategy for countering numerous militancies in Assam can be best termed as, 'Flip Flop', peace talks followed by counter militancy operations in an interminable cycle. After resurgence in January this year, the security Forces in the state led by the Army are reported to have killed 51 ULFA rebels and apprehended 553 militants since January in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The focus of operations was the ULFA base in Arunachal Pradesh and supply routes to camps in Myanmar. With the monsoon season in the offing ULFA's camps in Myanmar were isolated. There are two supply routes, one from Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in Upper Assam to Myanmar via Arunachal Pradesh and the other route is from Sonari -Sapekhati in Sivasagar district to Myanmar. Denial of supplies particularly malaria drugs is likely to create a major problem for the ULFA cadres in Myanmar.
The multi pronged strategy of cutting off the supply routes along with hitting at the ULFA bases in Arunachal Pradesh has brought the militancy under control for the, 'nth' time in Assam, though the ULFA maintains capability to launch bomb and IED attacks. With the Caretaker Administration in Bangladesh appearing amenable to suppress Indian militants operating in the country, there were renewed hopes of the ULFA being neutralized permanently.
But the Assam government renewed offer for peace talks with ULFA to provide for better atmosphere for development and investment in the state, "We appeal to the ULFA to come for talks for the greater interest of the state. The insurgency situation and extortions are sending wrong signals to outside investors," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said, 'despite the insurgency many people were doing flourishing business in Assam and many more were keen to invest in the state'. The government probably hoped that the ULFA with pressure from the Bangladesh Caretaker Administration and Myanmar with the chain of supply cut off would be amenable to peace. The Army on the other hand warned the State Government against talks with the ULFA as it is felt that the ULFA is under pressure and can be sufficiently neutralized to breaking point.
A firm policy in Assam particularly with reference to abductions and kidnappings is essential. Lack of the same and vacillating attitude of the government towards peace talks based on pressures from civil society elements which have clear ULFA backing has provided the ULFA enough leeway to carry on with its nefarious activities. The time in Assam is to act firm and root out militancy once and for all rather than providing the ULFA leeway for its criminal and terrorist activities. Nobody doubts the sincerity and genuineness of purpose of India's Prime Minister and his commitment to the people of the country. However transforming words into action by adopting a firm policy in Assam to bring the ULFA militancy to an end would be the best sustainable development measure that Mr. Manmohan Singh can contribute to the State.