Heroes rise and heroes fall. This piece is for one such hero who has fallen from grace in such a manner that he is now a criminal to scores of people whom he set out to emancipate. I am one of those scores of people. And our criminal is Paresh Baruah.
The recent news of a Bangladeshi court sentencing ULFA’S commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah to death over his involvement in a major smuggling case in 2004, got me thinking as to how a man who was once revered by thousands, is today remembered as perhaps one of the biggest black sheep that Assam has produced post India’s independence. Baruah was awarded the capital punishment along with 13 other people who included Bangladesh’s former ministers. And all this while he is snugged up somewhere away in Myanmar and perhaps dreaming of ruling over an independent Assam through the aegis of a regime a la the Khmer Rouge.
The man was once more respected than feared among the Assamese people, who saw in him their liberator. He gave the disgruntled youth of the land a reason to fight and assert themselves. He and his comrades once started a revolution that fired up the imaginations of the youth of the Assamese nation. But where has it all landed today? Today the newer generation of Assamese wants to forget all that happened about two decades back as a bad dream and move on. A case here being our last Republic Day. Throughout my childhood, Republic Day and Independence Day were seen as days to stay indoors, partly because there was always calls for shutdown by the ULFA and other such groups, and secondly nobody wanted to be blown up by some bomb. But this year, people came out in large numbers all over Assam, enjoyed themselves and dismissed off Paresh Baruah and the ULFA as nothing but trouble mongers. Yes, they still fear ULFA for the bomb blasts that it can carry out from time to time. But yes, they also regard them as traitors.
While some of his comrades were forced to move over to the Indian government’s side some time back, Paresh and his troop of comrades continued to carry the battle from their camps in Myanmar while being aided by Pakistan and China. The ULFA boys had a golden run in Bangladesh for more than a decade. They had camps there, support by the Islamists and parties like the BNP, and had started businesses running into millions which facilitated their campaigns against India. Baruah, under the garb of Zaman Bhai, ran a profitable hotel business there and owned a transport business which is perhaps one of the largest in the country. All that changed with the coming of the Awami League to power when all their work began to be busted one by one. And now this death sentence has come as a final blow to Baruah from Bangladesh.
For year as Baruah and the other ULFA honchos enjoyed the comforts in Bangladesh, embittered young boys and girls, without proper education or employment, were being recruited in Assam to run the organisation’s operations. The decade of 90s was particularly gloomy in this regard. Bomb blasts and violence were a common norm, in which mostly innocent civilians died. The ULFA began its revolution mainly on the issue of driving away foreigners (illegal Bangladeshis) from the land. What they ended up doing was killing poor Biharis and extorting from wealthy Marwaris. And while the Assamese people continued to suffer, the ULFA leaders under Baruah continued to live a wealthy lifestyle in Bangladesh and illegal Bangladeshis continued to prosper in Assam.
Baruah’s family still reportedly lives in Bangladesh. Having reportedly converted to Islam, the family now lives in secrecy under the protection of the Islamists. The Indian government has not been successful in luring them over to the Indian side of the border. Apart from Baruah’s family, the jailed ULFA leader Anup Chetia’s family is also based in Bangladesh currently.
Now what does the future hold for all? Well while the surrendered ULFA faction under Arabinda Rajkhowa is slowly transforming themselves into power breakers in Assam’s politics, ULFA-I (Independent) under Baruah is still carrying on the fight from Myanmar while trying to lure the youth of the state and sneaking in explosives into Guwahati and other parts. While currently, the Bodo militants seem to have stolen ULFA’s thunder in the state, Baruah still remains the biggest factor to instability and chaos in Assam. This new court order is not a good sign for Baruah. With Bhutan closing its doors towards Indian militants in 2003, Bangladesh has also decided to shut the doors on the ULFA. Now Myanmar is their last hope and the Indian government better act fast in this regard. Till definitive steps are taken, men like Baruah will continue their efforts to brainwash the youth and create anarchy in the state.
The ULFA was a revolution that has gone horribly wrong. It was a dream that went sore after top leaders like Baruah transformed themselves from freedom fighters to mercenaries for states like Pakistan and China. I rarely come across a person nowadays who doesn’t curses Baruah and the ULFA for the troubles they put Assam into. They are traitors to the Assamese people. They are traitors to me.
One last advice to Baruah in these tough times. Always keep a gun close to yourself. Shoot yourself before one of us does and rips you apart.