In a major policy shift in the ongoing peace process with the banned ULFA, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has decided to “completely” pull itself out of the negotiations.
The onus is now with the Union home ministry to carry forward the process. Such a policy decision will hopefully give the much needed push to the peace parleys while also giving a single window mechanism for decision making at the higher echelons of the administrative and political structure. The Home Ministry will also be in a much better position to work out the details of a ceasefire with the ULFA and make the necessary arrangement with the security agencies working under it. There is now no reason as to why the tempo of the peace process cannot be stepped up a notch higher with these new changes.
As such, the much awaited meeting of the ULFA appointed People’s Consultative Group (PCG) with officials from the Home Ministry including Cabinet Minister Shivraj Patil set for June 22, should now without wasting anymore time take steps to bring about clarity on the basic issues that must be addressed upfront before any formal talks begin. While New Delhi is unlikely to accept the issue of sovereignty as a pre-condition for future dialogue, much is expected to depend on how the government responds to the demand from the ULFA for the release of five of its jailed leaders, a key demand of the banned outfit for starting direct negotiations with the government. To expedite the peace process, the UPA government should not play a wait and watch game any more but rather take the plunge to facilitate genuine talks.
The attempt of the ULFA to involve people by constituting the Peoples Consultative Group (PCG) has to be appreciated. But at the same time, its failure to denounce violence at this crucial juncture could well dampen the goodwill generated by the recent initiatives. Instead of taking people into confidence and carrying their opinion and suggestions along the way, the ULFA appears to be of the illusion that they can draw more strength by continuing a military approach. Whether such a political strategy is sustainable in the long run remains a moot point. But it is quite certain that this will only push the Assamese people away from achieving a democratic peace settlement.
The tough stand taken by the Indian Military leadership, which has ruled out any possibility of suspension of military offensive against the proscribed rebel outfit should serve as a reminder that unless the ULFA agrees for a truce to start peace-talks and the security establishment in New Delhi is convinced, the very purpose of having the PCG itself will be self-defeating. Therefore, the ULFA on its part should put an end to its terror activities, in order that a bilateral ceasefire in immediately implemented. The start-up given by the PCG would hopefully result in formulating Confidence Building Measures that should in turn set up a framework for a dialogue route leading to a more secure environment and perhaps to peace. There can be no military solution and this latest opportunity should be used by both sides for a sustainable dialogue.