Cheer to anger – Mood changes over ULFA chairman’s release

By Syed Zarir Hussain, IANS,

Guwahati : It’s no longer ‘ULFA zindabad’ slogans renting the air in Assam’s countryside, but pure expression of revulsion and anger against the euphoria and jubilation after the release on bail of Arabinda Rajkhowa, chairman of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA).

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Beginning Saturday until late Sunday after Rajkhowa was released on bail from the Guwahati Central Jail, crowds numbering 500 to 5,000 in several places accorded a rousing reception to the separatist leader with throaty slogans like ‘ULFA zindabad’ (Long live ULFA) and ‘Arabinda Rajkhowa zindabad’.

But just a couple of days down the line, people have raised a voice of dissent – some of them, mostly families of those killed by the ULFA, questioning the justification of glorifying ULFA, still a banned outfit.

“Is there any valid reason to glorify ULFA which was responsible for the killing of so many innocent lives in the past 30 years,” questioned Akashitora, a well known TV anchor.

Akashitora lost her father Kamala Saikia, a journalist, in 1991. He was gunned down by ULFA in his ancestral home near Amguri in eastern Assam’s Sibsagar district.

Scores of families spread across Assam whose dear ones were killed by ULFA during the past three decades were peeved with television images of Rajkhowa being accorded a hero’s welcome and pro-ULFA slogans renting the air.

“We first want an explanation from Rajkhowa as to why ULFA triggered a bomb blast at the Independence Day parade in 2004 that killed 14 innocent people, many of them children,” an angry Lolita Saikia, the mother of two of the victims, told IANS.

She lost her two daughters, 14-year-old Rupa and 10-year-old Aruna, during the 2004 blast.

“It is a shame that some people are felicitating Rajkhowa with gamosas (traditional Assamese towel given as a mark of respect) when our tears and wounds are still fresh,” Lolita said as tears welled up in her eyes.

“If Rajkhowa has the guts, let him come to the blast site here and seek a public apology or agree to face public punishment,” she added.

Similar views were echoed by various groups and organisations – utterly shocked and dismayed at the way Rajkhowa was being accorded a red carpet welcome by some of his supporters.

“Let the ULFA chairman explain as to why they killed our leader Dimbeswar Gogoi in 1989,” said Pranjal Rajkonwar, president of the All Tai Ahom Students’ Union, an organisation representing the Tai Ahom ethnic group.

“We shall not allow Rajkhowa to hold a meeting or pay tribute at the memorial of Dimbeswar Gogoi.”

And going by the public mood, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi Tuesday said the government would not tolerate pro-ULFA slogans or ULFA flag being displayed in public.

“We have decided to ban all such things and have already intimated to the ULFA leadership who are out on bail not to indulge in slogan shouting or displaying ULFA flags in public,” the chief minister told reporters.

(Syed Zarir Hussain can be contacted at [email protected])