New Delhi: In an unprecedented move, the anti-talks faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA – Independent) issued a press statement on March 28 categorically supporting the territorial interests of Assam’s “friendly neighbour” China, and questioned the Indian government’s stand on the Tawang area in Arunachal Pradesh.
Though Indian security agencies have been stating that there’s a growing closeness between ULFA (I), some other armed outfits of the Northeast and China; and that ULFA (I) chief Paresh Barua is hiding in a camp near the China-Myanmar border, the statement comes as a strong vindication for the outfit’s decision to openly side with China as it fights for the “sovereignty of Assam”.
The statement, signed by ULFA (I) chairman Abhijit Asom, has been issued in response to Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama’s scheduled April 1 visit to the state. He is expected to attend as an official guest of the government at the three-day festival, Namami Brahmaputra. The Dalai Lama is also scheduled to address a meeting at the ITA Centre for Performing Arts in Guwahati later that day, after which he will be attending an event at Gauhati University on April 2 and at the Dibrugarh University the next day. (The Gauhati University venue was selected after IIT-Guwahati reportedly refused to host him.)
The statement cautioned the Dalai Lama against speaking out against China “in private or public” from “the soil of Assam.”
“China has always been a friendly neighbour of ours and the relationship between China and Assam is truly deep in linguistic and cultural heritage of the two nations,” the statement said.
The outfit urged the spiritual leader to acknowledge Assam as “an occupied land” and “resonate her freedom” in his words, and use his visit “optimistically” and also consider “reviving the Buddhist heritage of the state”. It also asked the Dalai Lama to condemn the “slaying of 855 students during the democratic and non-violent Assam Movement” ( carried out by Indian forces).
Reacting to the statement, Gauhati-based senior journalist Rajeev Bhattacharyya said, “Though this statement very clearly supports the territorial claim of China over Arunachal Pradesh but the anti-talks faction of the ULFA has come out with pro-Chinese statements earlier too. I am not surprised by the statement simply because the outfit is now heavily dependent on China.”
In a June 2015 article in Hindustan Times, Bhattacharya wrote, “The Chinese – who have been backing the northeast rebels with funds, weapons and killing skills since the late 1960s – finally seem to have all the pieces in place.” He wrote, “Their [Chinese] long-term plan to set up a united northeast front has become a reality – a section of government officials and strategic thinkers say – with the formation of United National Liberation Front of South East Asia two months ago at a camp deep inside Myanmar’s Sagaing Division.” As many as nine militant groups from the Northeast, including ULFA (I) and the anti-talks faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland – Songbijit – were said to be part of the new formation.
Quoting sources in rebel camps, he said the “next move” would be “to form a Northeast-government-in-exile with a moving capital.” Adding, “The Chinese answer comes to India more than half a century after the Tibetan government-in-exile was formed in Dharamshala.”
The author of the critically-acclaimed Rendezvous with Rebels: Journey to Meet India’s Most Wanted Rebels, Bhattacharya wrote in The Wire in June last year quoting sources in the special branch of the Assam police as saying, “At least two outfits [from the Northeast] – the anti-talks faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) – have established camps in the mountainous Shan state in Myanmar bordering China’s Yunnan province.” It came to light after Paresh Baruah gave an interview to an Assamese television journalist near the hideout.
China is believed to have trained the first batch of Naga rebels in the Yunnan province in the late 1960s besides training Mizo and some Manipuri rebels in the 1970s.
China’s warning to India
In keeping with its earlier stand on the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, China too registered a similar warning to India in that regard. On March 3, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told the media in Beijing, “China is gravely concerned over information that India has granted permission to the Dalai to visit Arunachal Pradesh. ” He said, “India will cause serious damage to peace and stability of border region and India-China relations” by allowing the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal.
Reacting to the Lama’s impending visit, the ULFA (I) statement said, “Your Holiness’s unwise plan to go to Tawang despite China objecting to your visit is a great concern to us. Because the situation can escalate and China’s restraint not to have a military confrontation with India might be overridden by necessity and a war might become inevitable.”
Bhattacharya added, “Paresh Baruah gives the impression to the cadres that there would soon be a war between India and China which will end the ‘colonial rule’ of India in the region. Baruah told me too, which I mentioned in my book. He said in the interview that there would be a war soon and it would be a ‘golden opportunity to kick out India from the Northeast’.”
In the March 28 statement, the outfit accused the Dalai Lama of “double talk” on Tawang.
It said, “In the list of Indian illegal occupation is, of course Nan Zang (southern Tibet). The Indian premier of the day, Jawaharlal Nehru, grabbed the opportunity of attempting to undo the acceptance of Tibet as a part of China in 1951, made you a very special ‘guest’ in keeping with the scheme of things to keep NEFA (North East Frontier Agency) ceded to British India by Tibetan emissary at Delhi without the knowledge and agreement of the Chinese imperial representative to the Simla conference of 1914.”
“Despite the deceitful drawing of theMcMahon Line then and your Holinesses’ acceptance that your homeland is an autonomous region of China, you perpetrated the fallacy of 1914 by recently reiterating that Tawang belongs to India. If it is not double talk, what is it, your Holiness? I am really astounded that you have succumbed to appeasement from the eminent position you have on the world stage to support India’s occupation of Nan Zhang.”
Meanwhile, responding to the letter, Assam’s director general of police Mukesh Sahay told reporters in Guwahati, “I have seen the letter; it is not a threat but an appeal to the Dalai Lama. As far as his security is concerned, all required arrangements have been made.”
— Sarbananda Sonowal (@sarbanandsonwal) March 28, 2017
Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal responded to the letter on Twitter on March 28 evening saying, “People of Assam will be delighted at the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in [the] Namami Brahmaputra festival.”