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Identity Politics Is Back In Ulfa Ground Zero
Until 40 years ago, this nondescript upper Assam hamlet was known as a football powerhouse.
But in 1979, Jeraigaon hit the headlines when local football icon Paresh Baruah and his cousin, Anup Chetia, an expert in recruiting players, joined Arabinda Rajkhowa and others to set up United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa). It was the beginning of Assam’s Anti-Foreigners’ Agitation.
Most Assamese wanted to drive out all “Bangladeshi” migrants to protect their identity. Taking an extreme stand, Ulfa launched an armed struggle to fight for Assam’s secession from India.
Now, Paresh is commanderin-chief of Ulfa (Independent) and has reportedly shifted his base to China from Myanmar. Anup, who was extradited from Bangladesh in 2015, is general secretary of the Ulfa faction engaged in peace talks with the government.
Over the past four decades, much water has flown down the Brahmaputra, but the fear of loss of identity and land to outsiders remains constant.
“If the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill comes back, Assamese identity and culture will be annihilated,” warns Anup. The proposed amendment seeks to legitimise non-Muslim migrants who entered India from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan before 2014.
With the announcement of Lok Sabha polls, BJP reiterated its commitment to amend the citizenship rules, which, many feel, would help it expand base in Assam’s Bengali Hindu pockets and West Bengal.
It’s unclear if BJP will gain or lose from the bill. But Paresh’s Ulfa (I) has clearly begun to benefit from it. “BJP’s adamant stand on the bill has started to push our youths to Ulfa (I),” says Anup, who has threatened to walk out of the peace talks if the bill is passed.
“There have been reports of a few youths from Jeraigaon joining Ulfa (I), but we can’t confirm it,” says a police officer from Chabua.
“Congress or BJP, national parties have only political interests in mind. They don’t care for us. AGP was against the bill but it, too, has now gone back to NDA,” rues Anup.