Interviewed by Vijaya Laxmi Tripura
Dhruba Jyoti Deka is an investigative journalist, a newspaper editor and expert on insurgency and militancy related issues in the Indian North Eastern state of Assam. For over two decades he has been researching on these issues and writing in various newspapers including Time of Assam. His research-based writings are considered as valuable resources by many counterinsurgency and counterterrorism organizations and institutions in India and the world. His works have been widely quoted in many research works – articles and books. Recently Blitz has interviewed him and discussed a wide range of areas. Here is the excerpt:
Q: You have been in journalism for many years and have worked both in Assamese and English press. What made you interested in monitoring researching crucial issues like counterinsurgency and counterterrorism?
A: Well, I would better like to clarify it as “insurgency” and “terrorism” instead of “counterinsurgency” and “counterterrorism”. The word “counter” is applied to Government agency or official. I am a Journalist,- and to go into the analysis of any of the field, I would better like to stand in a neutral position before analyzing anything there.
Yes, it is crucial. In fact, it’s more than crucial. You don’t have even one day of assurance that you will be there to see the sunrise of the next day. But how much difference you can count between journalism and a war? You have no guarantee of your life in the war. So is journalism. The world has witnessed similarity of journalism and war.
Being from a Technical background by Education, I could have opted in for other jobs. But… those countless death, atrocities, gunfights, ambushes, state-sponsored rapes, and tortures… never let me sit back and relax in a safe distance. All those faces, with whom I used to play in my childhood, became a past name. To go anywhere from my house I need to cross several old aged mothers paying attribute to their sons with lighting “small to medium earthen oil-filled lamps” at the place of their cremation. Day by day I was inclined to see this whoerever I use to go.
I must have to admit that it is the death of ULFA leader Tapan Baruah (real name Madan Das) which compelled me to get involved impartially into journalism on the insurgency in Assam. Late Tapan Baruah was my uncle’s friend and I had a friendly relationship with him. I could not sleep well for several months because of his death. As a person, he was too polite in behavior and kind of heart for what people who knew or met him still have good feelings for him.
Tapan Baruah was one of the few ULFA leaders who was extremely tactful and bravery in the battlefield. His death felt me the smell of internal conspiracy and betrayal by his own fellows. From there I did start my journey of journalism on the insurgency. I had to get several answers, but not from reading someone else’ books or writings. I opted in to go on the field and do an investigation of my own. At that time I was in print media in Assamese language and I made a series of reporting named “ULFAR Swadhin Asomor Swopno DwuSpono”(Dreams and Nightmares of ULFA’s Independent Asom). In that series of reports, I covered stories of slain ULFA insurgents and civilians those killed by the army or police. Readers liked those stories and the newspaper hit the market. Beyond of that series, I had to cover analytical reports on insurgency for the Editorial page of that newspaper. I was about to go for more, but the Editor of the newspaper sold it to another journalist and my series stopped at halfway. That was panic for me, but I made my determination, I will keep this track forever.
After submitting my resignation before the newspaper was sold, I joined another daily and started the same reporting and analytical articles on the insurgency.
Those days in print media was not less than nightmares. I had to suffer an injury in a bomb blast that turned me into a neurological patient for the life. The life threat attacks happened to me on those days are experience in my count. As it says – experience is what you gain from your desired job.
Q: We know, for many years, the north-eastern seven states in India, which are known as ‘Seven Sisters’ have been witnessing insurgency. But, since 2011, following the peace deal reached in between the Indian government and United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) Chairman Aravind Rajkhowa and later extradition of another bigwig, General Secretary of ULFA Anup Chetia from Bangladesh prison and his joining the peace deal, ULFA has already gone into extinction. Being a resident of Assam, how do you assess this peace deal?
A: Peace deal! Can peace be a deal? Never. Where on this earth the does peace exist?
In fact, what happened in 2011 was not a peace deal indeed. It was a division of ULFA made by themselves, which even RAW too failed at. The division was started in 2004 at Sherpur camp that was reflected publicly in 2009. ULFA’s internal conflicts between their central committee leaders are responsible for this division into two factions – one is led by Chairman Arabindra Rajkhowa and another one is led by Paresh Baruah.
A huge portion of ULFA leaders and cadres left Paresh Baruah in the period of 2009 to 2011. Almost all of the Bangladesh based ULFA leaders left Paresh Baruah with a diplomatic strategy that was portrayed as “Bangladesh flush out ULFA top guns” by the Indian media.
If you are asking my analytical opinion about Arabindra Rajkhowa faction’s future, then I must say that it is a big ‘ZERO’. Have you ever seen someone feeding a fish after fishing? So is Arabindra Rajkhowa led faction’s future too. While Paresh Baruah led faction is still a factor for the Indian government, India won’t make the mistake of losing the big fish for the fishes already in their hand.
In 2012, a senior official(I can’t disclose his name due to his official protocol) in Indian Intelligence agency said me, “India will never talk to anyone else in ULFA except Paresh Baruah.”
The Arabindra Rajkhowa led faction likely to end up with some small deals and packages for which they never spoiled their life’s valuable years.
Q: Can you kindly describe the reason behind uprise of insurgency in Assam and how ULFA was formed?
A: The underlying reason is quite simple. Though most analyst ends up writing big volume books about this point, I would rather say, “Why would a married lady seek divorce if she is treated as she deserves”!
The Indo-Assam conflict represented by ULFA is not a piece that can be written as a book until the Government of India goes inside the deep solution of the cause. Several Senior Army Officers and Intelligence officers admitted after their retirement that the ULFA issue can’t be solved by military operations but should be solved politically.
Analyzing the cause behind the insurgency was a bit easier couple of decades back. But now it is not so easy to say in short. Every month there are multiple causes have been found behind the insurgency issue. Some analysts use to say about “unemployment”, “emotion” etc. – but it is mere ignorance to say such factors are the reason behind the insurgency here.
Well about the formation of ULFA, there are several research papers and books available at present days, but everyone had different information about the outfit’s formation. Though ULFA itself says that the outfit was founded on 7 April of 1979, it is half-truth of fact. There is no clear evidence that the ULFA was formed on the said date and year. Initially, the outfit was not aimed for “Armed struggle for Freedom of Assam”. As most of the founders are dead and the senior leaders are bound to their constitution, the reality of the formation is still a question which will end up with a valid answer. However, there are some reliable reports in the book “ULFAR SWADHIN ASOM”(ULFA’s Independent Assam) that said the outfit was initially formed to reform the ‘Ahom ruled Asom’ that became a part of ‘British ruled India’ through “Treaty of Yandabo” between the ‘British East India Company’ and ‘Kingdom of Ava’ in February 24, 1826. Present territory and boundary of Assam have a vast difference with ‘Ahom ruled Asom’ at the time of “Treaty of Yandabo”.
Bishnujyoti Buragohain alias Bhimkanta Buragohain (died in 2011 following cardiac arrest) is known as the prime founder of ULFA initially and it is recognized by all analyst cum Government documents. Bhadreshwar Gohain and Budheswar Gogoi were the other founders at the initial stage accompanying Bishnujyoti Buragohain. Paresh Baruah, Arabindra Rajkhowa, Anup Chetia, and other senior leaders were influenced by Bishnujyoti Buragohain and joined ULFA later on.
Q: There are media reports about ULFA receiving training and funding from Pakistan and China. Do you think, by neutralizing ULFA, the Indian government and the policymakers have achieved tremendous diplomatic success?
A: Media reports are mostly half-truth about insurgency issues.
It is true that several ULFA leaders and cadres took ‘advanced guerilla training’ in Pakistan-Afganistan border from 1992 to 2004. It is not only Pakistan who helped ULFA to reach there. Bangladesh is also equally responsible. Till 2004, Every batch of ULFA leaders and cadres moved to Pakistan from Bangladesh via air travel with Bangladeshi Passport and Visa. You can’t blame Pakistan alone. Bangladeshi authorities managed Passports, Visas and all necessary documents to ULFA in exchange of money. Most of the Bangladeshi authorities are corrupt and ULFA had the key there. Let me tell you some fact. In 1992, ULFA leader Tapan Baruah was arrested by Bangladeshi police and Paresh Baruah managed Tapan Baruah’s release by paying Taka 10 Lakh to that local police station.
ULFA took training in Pakistan-Afganistan border but for that ULFA had to pay Pakistan in crores for each. Funding from Pakistan or China is completely bias and vincible ignorance of Indian media. Up to many extend China is also helping ULFA with weapons, but not with money. ULFA or other insurgent groups get weapons from China and other countries for free. Since the mid-1980s, China has favored ULFA with providing training and other supports but within a narrow limit.
Neutralizing ULFA! I do not agree with you. ULFA’s Arabindra Rajkhowa faction is neutralized, but Paresh Baruah led faction has gone far away from Indian Government’s diplomacy. In 2013, Paresh Baruah led faction was renamed as ULFA[Independent], which created a diplomatic insult to Arabindra Rajkhowa led faction. They meant there is two faction of ULFA – one is ULFA[Independent] and another one is ULFA[Dependent].
Indian policymakers always making mistakes in regards to insurgency issues while they are in charge. Later, when they get retired, they use to write high volume books which contradicts their own done and saying. ULFA never said they are not into lateral talk with the Government of India. Indeed ULFA proceeded far ahead in 1992 and 2005 but the Indian policymaker made mistakes and mistakes to break the lateral talks. In both attempts, there was an agreement between Go and ULFA that both parties will refrain from any armed operation during the talk process – but it is the government who broke that agreement by attacking and killing ULFA leaders and cadres within the period of lateral talk. By that way, lateral talk can’t be successful. Such failed attempts compelled Paresh Baruah to not to trust Indian Government’s talk offers with ease.
Without Paresh Baruah in the lateral talk, the insurgency issue will never be resolved but will be grown like a giant issue. Look at the joint venture of North-Eastern insurgents – most are now under one umbrella organization named “United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia”. The formation of UNLF [WSEA] clearly made the road open for all insurgents outfits from western south-east Asia – which means a bigger area and more outfits in one umbrella.
The government of India and its policymakers must have to leave “bullets for bullets” and “who are they before our army powers” formula. Last five decades is proof of “policy failure”. In my opinion, a pure “Republic Union of India” model must have to be brought to completely resolve insurgency issues. The “Republic Union of India” modal must be like USA or UK model.
Q: Did ULFA enjoy support from the Assamese masses? If they did so – then how the people of Assam now are seeing the post-peace deal period?
A: Again, it’s a confusing part. As I said earlier, there are two factions of ULFA, it’s a bit confusing about which faction you are asking. If you are asking about ULFA that is now led by Arabindra Rajkhowa, then my answer is a big NO. Assamese people almost have thrown away this faction from their mind and hope. About their “peace deal” I have said already. This faction will end up with a consolation which you can say “lollypop to crying child”.
And if you are asking about Paresh Baruah led ULFA[I], then I must admit that majority people of Assam (excluding some portion of Barak valley) still in hope of Independent Asom though might not by armed revolution. You can say, even after the division of ULFA into two factions, Paresh Baruah led hardliner group’s influence and historical cause are still maintaining a hope of ‘Independent Asom’ in people’s mind.
Q: There are media reports in the recent time about radical Islamic militancy groups using the soil of Assam and other six states in the north-east mostly as terrorist launch pad. Don’t you think, such trend poses grave threat to national security of India?
A: If you are referring recent arrests of some Hizbul Mujahidin by “radical Islamic militancy”, – then I must have to say only one sentence, “This is the North-East India, where nothing happened while the rest of India and Bangladesh were burning after Babri Masjid Demolition, what force on this earth has the capability to dig into the seven sisters?”
There are more than 80 insurgencies outfits in North-East India who are anti-Islamic-militancy from their beginning. All the insurgent groups are either Christian or non-Islamic, so the outfits won’t allow growing any other outfit that is alien to them. Then how could you imagine these Islamic militancy will be able to grow up here! Never.
Q: You also are the editor of an influential news portal named the Times of Assam. What was the role of this newspaper when Assam was witnessing anti-Indian activities of ULFA?
A: Look, when you are in journalism, you can’t take a single side. You must portray every side and angle. Probably we are the only media (I am not counting other media on the issue of the insurgency as none of them can compete with us on this issue) who criticized ULFA for their wrongdoing with harsh words. We have even unmasked many wrongdoings by ULFA those were kept secret for years. I was threatened and attacked by ULFA for revealing their black secrets.
Even so, in my personal opinion, ULFA can’t be considered as anti-Indian. Anti-Indian is those who wrote black history in Mumbai, Delhi and a few other states of the west and north India.
Q: Following the peace deal, what benefits the Assamese people are enjoying from the Indian central government?
A: Which peace deal? While there is no peace deal in reality, what is left there for Assamese people to enjoy as a benefit?
Of course, the peace dealers are enjoying their old age as a millionaire.
Q: would you tell us about the political parties in Assam and how ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has been becoming increasing popular within the Assamese people?
A: Apart from Indian National Congress (INC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – Assam has only one political party that can be counted. The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) – formed in 1985 following the “Assam Accord” is in alliance with the BJP since their second term in 1996. Due to many wrongdoings of AGP in their both terms, the party is losing their bases and not in a position to grow again in the future.
BJP in Assam is indeed a conversion theory. Approx 90 percent of the BJP leaders are AGP or INC a few years back. I would not say its rising of BJP. Its BJP’s central committee’s theory of “bargain and purchase”. More to say, Anti-incumbency is a regular practice among the voters of Assam.
Q: Since Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been continuing its conquest in the north eastern part of India and Bengal, do you see the possibility for BJP in emerging as a major political player in that part of India in the near future?
A: In West Bengal, you can’t count BJP as the future. West Bengal’s politics are completely different from other states of India. But in the national level, the BJP is going to be a horse of a long run. The alliances of most political parties under the lead of INC is the clear indication that BJP is going to be a bigger cake for one more decade.
Q: India is going to hold its general election in 2019 and it is anticipated that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will win a second consecutive term. From the media reports what we can understand, gradually Indian National Congress, Trinamool Congress and leftist parties are losing steam. May be in the near future, BJP will emerge as the only party in India to win majority in the general elections. In that case, can we say, India is moving ahead in becoming a BJP-democracy?
A: BJP-democracy! Does democracy exist anywhere? We use to speak about democracy, but where is democracy? Most of the countries are not practicing pure democracy. Non-existence of democracy is the key of BJP indeed. India is losing its economy, but the BJP is likely to rule for the next term too.
Policymakers of BJP are much clever to hijack and divert the voter’s mind than INC and its allied parties. Every Indian is seeing reverse pictures of Modi’s promises in 2014 election campaign. But INC failed to take advantage of this reverse picture, thus giving over to BJP.
Q: How do you assess Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing Indian Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organization that is widely regarded as the parent organization of the ruling party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party?
A: Yes. RSS is the father of BJP. Everyone knows this as a crystal clear. Once a spy front of the British, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh got publicity by murdering Mahatma Gandhi to create terror among the non-Hindus. RSS and its child wings are also accused of barbaric murders of Christian priest along with his son by burning alive in Orissa [in India] decades back.
Q: We know, RSS has a program titled ‘Ghar Waps’, under which they are forcing Christians and Muslims in particular in getting converted into Hinduism. How do you personally see this program and do you think, such tendency goes against a secular India?
A: This is another example of media bias. Though I have been a strong criticizer of RSS, RSS is not running any “Ghar Wapasi” program. But they welcome if someone from another religion accepts Hindutva, – and this is being done by everywhere in the world.
We talk about humanity – but, sadly, we are living in the world where religion is superior everywhere.
Q: Ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is all set in expelling over forty million Bangla-speaking Muslim and push them inside Bangladesh. As this had been one of the key electoral pledges of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, do you think he will implement this ‘promise’ before the next general election?
A: Wrong. BJP already promised and declared that they are not going to extradite anyone whoever failed to prove citizenship in NRC up-gradation in Assam.
Moreover, identifying someone as Bangladeshi is a very complex procedure. Identifying as not-citizen doesn’t identify the same person to be a citizen of a specific country. Unless you prove someone as a citizen of a specific country with valid proof in court, nowhere in this world you can’t extradict the person to that country.
Modi can’t implement this promise too.
Q: While Bangladesh already is struggling with the Rohingya refuge issue, if India begins sending Bangla-speaking Muslims into Bangladesh, this will be a tremendous burden on the government of this small neighbor of India. Since Bangladesh maintains excellent relations with India, do you think Mr. Modi will really do anything that goes against the interest of Bangladesh?
A: Regarding Bangladeshi immigrant issue, Bangladesh Government must have to co-operate with India to find out a permanent solution.
None of the government can’t resolve the immigrant issue without practical and transparent cooperation.
So far the Bangladeshi immigrant issue is burning North-East India, my opinion is that Bangladesh government should co-operate Indian Government identifying existing immigrants here and shall have lateral agreement and adopt a practical resolution as “Identify, Mark, Work Permit, But no voting right” formula.
Bangladesh can’t hide the fact that in their liberation war, millions of Bangladeshi people had to flee out of the country crossing through Indian border. Neither India can’t hide that India helped Bangladesh in their liberation war and opened the boundary for Bangladeshis who fled out due to Pakistani army’s atrocities. The world knows these facts.