Jubilation as ULFA chairman Rajkhowa walks out of jail (Second Lead)

By Syed Zarir Hussain, IANS
Saturday, January 1, 2011

GUWAHATI - Arabinda Rajkhowa, chairman of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), may have led a violent insurgency spanning more than three decades in Assam, but the scene was of utter jubilation Saturday as he stepped out of jail on bail and addressed a series of public meetings on way to his ancestral home in the eastern Sivasagar district.

Since his release around 8.30 am Saturday, Rajkhowa addressed at least 10-odd meetings, some of them impromptu gatherings, with thousands of people lining up the streets shouting “ULFA zindabad” (Long live ULFA) and showering the ULFA chairman flowers and felicitating him with the traditional gamocha (hand woven towel).

“I am thrilled and moved by the response of the people,” Rajkhowa told IANS after addressing a meeting at Sipajhar in Darrang district, about 60 km north of here.

His release came after a special anti-terrorism court Thursday granted him bail after the government prosecutor gave no objection to Rajkhowas bail petition.

“We are for unconditional peace talks with the government, but a formal decision to this effect could be taken at our executive meeting once all the jailed leaders are released,” the ULFA chairman told journalists soon after he stepped out of the jail early Saturday.

Rajkhowa, 54, was captured from Dhaka by sleuths of Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion and then handed over to Indian authorities December last year. He was at the Guwahati Central Jail for the past one year.

A large crowd comprising family and friends greeted Rajkhowa outside the jail.

I would take this opportunity to thank the Citizens Forum (a civil society group that advocated the release of the jailed ULFA leadership to pave the way for peace talks) for mounting pressure for our release and also the government for cooperating and respecting the sentiment of the people by releasing us, Rajkhowa said.

But I would like to appeal to the government to immediately release two of our jailed colleagues, Sasha Chouhdury (self styled foreign secretary) and Chitraban Hazarika (finance secretary), immediately, besides taking urgent steps to enable Anup Chetia (ULFA general secretary currently jailed in Bangladesh since 1997) to come to India and take part in the peace process.

But I would like to make it very clear that the peace process in no way would bring division or split the ULFA, the ULFA chairman said.

Even Paresh Baruah (elusive commander in chief of ULFA) is not against the peace process.

Although wife Kaveri and their two children were captured along with Arabinda Rajkhowa, the Assam police had let them off with no charges slapped against them.

Rajkhowas family has since been settled in his ancestral home in Lakwa in Sivasagar district.

Rajkhowa, who studied till class 12, was tried on several criminal charges ranging from murder to kidnapping and extortion, with the maximum penalty being the death sentence, according to Assam Police.

But lack of hard evidence and as part of a government strategy to get the jailed ULFA leaders released, Rajkhowa got a favourable verdict from the court.

Rajkhowa has become the sixth top jailed leaders to have been released on bail since May with the government getting a clear signal from the imprisoned separatists that they would hold peace talks with New Delhi once released.

Barring ULFA’s elusive commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah, the entire top brass of the outfit were in jail. The imprisoned leaders included Rajkhowa, vice chairman Pradip Gogoi, publicity chief Mithinga Daimary, deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah, Choudhury, Hazarika, cultural secretary Pranati Deka, and political ideologue Bhimkanta Buragohain.

But with demands for releasing the jailed ULFA leaders gathering momentum to pave the way for holding peace talks, the government embarked on a strategy not to oppose the bail applications of the separatists in court.

The process began and one by one six top jailed ULFA leaders were released on bail - the government prosecutor not objecting to their bail applications in court.

The first to be released on bail were Gogoi and Daimary, followed by Baruah and Deka, and earlier this month the veteran Bhimkanta Buragohain.

“We are hopeful that my brother would take the initiative in opening peace talks with the government,” Rajkhowa’s elder brother Ajay Rajkonwar said.

Now all eyes are set on the ULFA chairman to see if he is able to pull the curtains down on more than 30 years of insurgency in Assam.

Filed under: Terrorism

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