The top leadership of the faction also slammed the Sarbananda Sonowal-led government for blaming the group for the recent killing of five Bengali-speaking persons in Assam’s Tinsukia district and, therefore, “portraying” the group in negative light.
The pro-talk United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) claimed that following the Tinsukia killings, the arrest of its senior leaders Jiten Dutta and Mrinal Hazarika “without any proof” will further create divide and disturbance in the society.
There have been several protests in the state over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which seeks to grant citizenship to people from minority communities — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians — from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of residence in India even if they don’t possess any proper document.
The ULFA leaders said there was a sense of fear among the Assamese community over the bill and Assam should not become like Tripura, where, it alleged that “Hindu Bengalis have taken over the state from the native tribals”.
“We have already made it clear to the government that they cannot be partial towards the people supporting the citizenship bill and that if the bill is passed then a lot of our youth will join the armed revolution,” Anup Chetia, ‘general secretary’ of the pro-talk faction, told PTI.
“The Assamese people are scared that their legacy will be erased due to the bill,” Chetia, who was deported to India from Bangladesh in 2015 after 18 years of imprisonment, said.
Assam’s Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma said “the central government has moved the bill in Parliament and now the matter is before the Joint Parliamentary Committee.”
According to state unit president of the BJP Ranjit Das, there is a “false sense of fear” among Assamese people over the bill.
“The government in the state has not been formed only with the support of Assamese people but many others like Bengalis and several tribes. People are being misled by certain groups who do not have support at all,” Das said.
On November 2, six men in military fatigues carrying assault rifles rounded up six Bengali-speaking persons in Tinsukia’s Dhola area. They took them to a nearby bridge over a stream and opened fire at them. However, one of them escaped unhurt as he fell into the stream.
Assam Police arrested Dutta and Hazarika from Sivasagar and Guwahati in Assam.
Arabinda Rajkhowa, ‘chairman’ of the ULFA pro-talk group, who is leading the ongoing peace talks with the central government, denied any links with the killings.
“Let me make it clear that ULFA is not involved in the incident, be it pro-talk or ULFA Independent group. Mrinal Hazarika and Jiten Dutta are not at all involved in the incident from any angle,” Rajkhowa asserted.
“Arresting them despite them having no role in the gory act is like playing with the sentiments of the indigenous Assamese people,” said the 62-year-old leader.
He also alleged that the state government was partial towards the people supporting the citizenship bill as it did nothing against legislators such as Shiladitya Deb, who he claimed made provocative speeches on the sensitive issue.
Deb, a BJP MLA from Hojai district in Assam, has supported the bill and is accused of giving communally sensitive statements.
Chetia alleged the Tinsukia incident was a direct result of “provocative speeches made by Deb”.
Though Deb did not answer repeated calls of this reporter, minister Sharma said that the government is not partial towards anyone and is ready to set up an inquiry against Deb if it receives evidential proof against the legislator.
“We are ready to investigate Shiladitya Deb provided someone gives us transcript of the speech where he incited violence,” said Sarma, who is also the convenor of the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance.
Raju Barua, former ‘deputy commander-in chief’ and now a senior member of the pro-talk group, said the government must understand that the citizenship bill needs to be scraped if it wants peace in the society.
He also claimed that incidents like Tinsukia will continue if the legislators like Deb do not refrain from making provocative speeches in favour of the bill and hurt the sentiments of the indigenous Assamese people.