Within United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), he is known as Mama. The 86-year-old Bhimkanta Buragohain is the godfather and ideologue of the outfit. By profession he was a painter and sculptor but when he along with others decided to form an armed rebel group called ULFA in late 1970s he soon became its guiding force. He led Paresh Baruah and other top leaders of the outfit first in ULFA arms training camps inMyanmarand then inBhutan. He along with other senior ULFA leaders was released by the government last years after seven years in prison to start talks to end three decades old armed insurgency in Assam.
When I arrived for his interview, his first one with media, I passed through the army camp which has been recently established outside his home. The interview took place at Mama’s residence in Ahom Gaon inUpper Assam’s Tinsukia district, a modest, single-story four-room house on a side street that is guarded by cops and his own men. On the main enterance there is a home ministry’s notice declaring the ULFA as ‘unlawful Association.’ Mama, while pointed towards the notice, said that his life of violence is in the past. “I told the [PM] Manmohan Singh jee that my wish now is for the fighting to stop and peace to return toAssam”.
Has the armed insurgency in Assam finally failed?
We are simple and peaceful people. But when we were occupied and our resources were looted what would we do? We protested. The government used indiscriminate force to suppress us. We decided to pick weapons to fight for our genuine rights.Indiashould accept the history of our land, that we had never been part ofIndia. For 3,526 years we were independent. It was only in 1826 that the British occupied our land. When Mahatma Gandhi launched Quit India movement, we joined it and fought for our independence. But onceIndiawon independence it did not delegateAssam’s sovereignty.
How did ULFA come into existence?
We were shocked when in 1957 Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru took the oil refinery away fromAssam. It was our oil and it should have been refined within the state. Then when the Chinese came in 1962, the Indian Army abandoned us to the Chinese. What would have Nehru done if the Chinese had attacked Punjab,Delhior Kerala. We have not achieved anything by being a part ofIndia.Indiahas done nothing for us.
How did you become involved with ULFA?
I was doing a course in fine arts at a university in Kolkata. While I was there, I saw how our community was looked down upon inIndia. When I came back here, I saw our students protesting against the illegal migrants in our state. I saw how our resources were being looted. I met other people with similar views and we finally decided to fight for our rights. We formed ULFA on April 7, 1978.
Where do you get your support and weapons from?
Our funding comes from local people. In ULFA, we have a separate military wing. It is the duty of the military wing to procure and arrange weapons. My job was, and is, to guide and advise.
You recruited Paresh Baruah for ULFA. How did you meet him?
I think it was in 1982 that Paresh came to meet me. He was a good football player. He was a friend of one of my nephews. He started calling me Mama and later that became my nickname. He was very upset with the police excesses against the student agitation and wanted to join a guerrilla organisation.
Do you think he will join the talks with the government?
I think his role is very important for the successful settlement of the conflict. He is the military chief of the organisation and, hence, he is very relevant in any matter relating to the outfit, including peace talks. I’m sure if we make some progress in talks with you then he will have no choice but to join us.
Does Baruah have contacts with other insurgents groups?
Our fight and struggle is limited to liberateAssam. But as he began travelling toBangkok,Malaysia,Singapore,PakistanandEurope, he soon became a kind of international player. He has got some other plans.
Do you think you will achieve through talks what you failed to achieve through armed insurgency?
We are meeting the Indian government again and we will discuss and debate how should we go about it. The government has always demanded an end to the violence. We have now agreed and our boys have announced ceasefire inAssam. Now it is forIndiato be sincere and solve the conflict.
How was your meeting with the Prime Minister?
He is a wise and noble person. He told me, ‘Mamajee I am also fromAssamand I know something wrong has happened’. He came across as a sincere man. He said the Indian Constitution was 94 per cent flexible and could accommodate our demands.
Do you regret your days with ULFA?