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OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion now in Hindi अब आप के लिये हिंदी मे.
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Seven more labourers from Bihar have been killed in the Sibsagar district of Assam in a new wave of attacks. The act of violence in Assam comes after two days of terror in which nearly 50 people were killed. The current wave of violence began when an opinion poll result that showed little support for the outfit’s campaign for a “sovereign state”. The attacks took place in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts, where an NGO was to conduct the second phase of the opinion poll on Ulfa’s demand for a “sovereign Assam”. The outfit said in a recent edition of its bulletin that “infiltration from mainland India” was more dangerous than the “so-called infiltration” from Bangladesh. There is an indefinite curfew in place and the army has been patrolling both Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts. Strongly condemning the “cowardly killing” by Ulfa of non-Assamese people in Assam, BJP on Sunday lashed out at the UPA government and the ruling Congress in the state. CPM too condemned the killings saying it showed that the state government had failed to deal with terrorist activities.

The fresh attack came soon after Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal offered peace talks with the ULFA during a daylong visit to the state to review security in the wake of the targeted attacks on migrant workers that began Friday.  Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi continues to remain clueless on how to deal with the situation. Offstumped had earlier in the year http://offstumped.nationalinterest.in/2006/11/06/guwahati-bomb-blasts-what-is-happening-in-assam/ chronicled how things have gone downhill in Assam with 10 serious incidents in October alone which was just the culmination of violence over the previous 12 months. Offstumped had then remarked that one could very well confuse the news from Assam with news from Iraq given the frequency of attacks and the increasing body bag count. Offstumped had also highlighted the flip flop indulged by the Congress in talking and not talking to ULFA as Assam went to the polls. Offstumped had then raised the question if the high frequency of violence was an act of desperation on the part of ULFA or was it th ULFA upping the ante to force terms on the government.

So where does Assam go from here with the ULFA or its rogue adherents having made clear their intentions with this targetted killing. By framing the debate on linguistic terms and making the migration of hindi speaking workers an excuse for its violence, ULFA is raising a red flag on the linguistic division of states. So what strategy should the government deploy to deal with ULFA – there is the terrorism angle and then there is the larger linguistic question ?

Offstumped has in the past argued that linguistic division of states was an idea past its sell by date. As India marches on in the 21s century, economic opportunities are throwing serious doubts on concepts like “domicile” and “residency” that we had come to take for granted and are deeply rooted in a mindset that views Indian Citizens as “Migrant Workers”. The Government and the national political parties across the spectrum must wake up and see the dangers of preserving and exploiting linguistic identities to curry favour in state politics. With most regional parties owingtheir existence to this brand of politics, this is easier said than done. But the clock is ticking and it wont be long before the ULFA example is emulated by others looking to exploit parochial sentiments in regions of significant economic and social upheaval.

Coming to the more immideate question of how to deal with the ULFA terrorism, it perhaps is pertinent to look back in history and reflect on the below question. Where has a democratic government successfully quelled a guerilla warfare based insurgency and brought back electoral politics as the primary vehicle for issue resolution ? If we discount Northern Ireland the only instance that comes to mind is Punjab. Some may argue Nepal but the jury is still out on that one will likely play out. And if memory serves us right the situation in Punjab was dealt quite firmly through a concerted law enforcement campaign with minimal political intereference. In fact there were no offers for talks with those demanding a sovereign state of Khalistan. Kashmir with its divided history and geography is an exception, but it is inconceivable that an offer for talks should ever have been made with ULFA in the first place when the grievances the ULFA nurses could have very easily been addressed through electoral politics like in every other state in India. What was special about ULFA that despite its stated objective of a sovereign assam the government decided to offer talks.

Offstumped Bottomline: The offer for talks with ULFA was a strategic mistake. It gave legitimacy to a dubious line of argument that there are grievances with no historical baggage of the kashmir kind that warranted acts of violence and merited negotiations outside of the framework of democracy and electoral politics. By granting this legitimacy the Government gave ULFA the psychological advantage and room for manouvering between peace and violence. That strategic mistake has now come back to haunt us. If we have faith in the strength of our democracy, in our constitution, in our justice system and in our firm belief that electoral politics provides the framework for all issue resolution, then there should be no reason whatsoever for any negotiations with those who resort to violence to seek justice. We need to be firm and unflinching in not negotiating with terrorists.

The message should be loud and clear – join the electoral process or be damned.

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