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Terror By Another Name
Ajai Sahni* & Bibhu Prasad Routray#



…liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others, which cannot be where there is no law…1

Justice is the first virtue of institutions.2

The meaning of democracy, in India, has been so completely subverted by a corrupt political and administrative elite as to lose all meaning beyond the ritual of quinquenneal elections. The situation is infinitely worsened in areas afflicted by widespread political strife or terrorism, where the rites of the ballot have minimal impact on the essentials of policy and governmental practices. Here, a succession of regimes pursues the same patterns of perverse politics, irrespective of all projected ideological differences and partisan affiliations. We discover, consequently and increasingly, that policies and actions that lie clearly and explicitly outside the scope of the Constitution can, and are, in fact, frequently resorted to with complete and increasing impunity, and to the detriment of the very fundamentals of democracy, and of the most basic rights of citizens. "The whole idea of a government of limited powers, and of a written constitution as a device for attaining that end"3 is, thus, being sacrificed to an ethic of expediency and to the outright and unashamed corruption of the leadership.

In the widening sphere of terrorism, low intensity warfare and the transparent banditry that is now passed off under the guise of ‘political violence’, deeply and personally compromised policy-makers have failed to devise any strategy beyond the forging of dishonest ‘deals’ with terrorist leaders, simple acts of bribery, and a complex and corrosive system of collusion that is eating away the foundations of lawful governance. These unscrupulous and unprincipled transactions are frequently justified in terms of the ‘pursuit of peace’, but this is worse than mendacity, and these constitute, indeed, some of the gravest dangers to the very possibility of a viable peace. Indeed, the basic truth that has been reiterated again and again, and that has been ignored with equal persistence, is that an unprincipled peace is unsustainable.

Among the many disastrous experiments with false peace initiatives,4 the ‘surrender policies’ that have been applied to Assam have been outrageous both in their conception and their consequences. These "ill-conceived and counter-productive policies," K.P.S. Gill remarks, "…create utterly unrealistic and unjustifiable expectations in the minds of those who surrender, and display a far greater concern among our political establishment for the welfare of the terrorists, than they do for the security and welfare of the common people."5 The surrender policies, in fact, have done much worse – they have created a Frankensteinian monster, a gigantic organized crime conglomerate that retains all the instruments and practices of terrorism, though it abandons its political intent, and that operates substantially under the protection of, and in collusion with, the state and its agents.

Surrenders: Terms of the Trade

Two ‘surrender schemes’ have been devised in Assam, the first of these in 1992 and the second in 1998. Chief Minister Hiteshwar Saikia’s government launched the "100 Per Cent Special Margin Money Scheme" on June 1, 1992, with the objective of ‘rehabilitating surrendered terrorists’. Specifically, the scheme provided:

  • Benefits upto Rs. 200,000 per individual, of which Rs. 100,000 came as a bank loan.
  • In case of partnerships, the ceiling was increased up to Rs. 1,000,0000, of which 250,000 constituted margin money and the balance was a bank loan.
  • For cooperative societies formed by ‘misguided youths’, the scale of benefits was further enhanced to Rs. 2,000,000, with margin money up to Rs. 500,000, and the rest as a bank loan.
  • The State government stood as guarantor against the bank loans.
  • After an initial three-year moratorium, the loan repayment was to start in the fourth year, and was to be completed within eight years, including the three-year moratorium period.
  • The schemes identified rehabilitation including the setting up of industrial, transport, agricultural, veterinary and fishery units, and other business undertakings.6

The present Governor of Assam, Lt. Gen. (Retd) S.K. Sinha summed up the essence of the scheme: each of the Surrendered United Liberation Front of Asom (SULFA) cadres "was given Rs 2.5 lakh cash and Rs 1.5 lakh soft loan, which was never returned. They were allowed to retain their weapons as well."7 The enormity of this must be understood against the backdrop of some of Assam’s economic and quality of life indicators. The annual per capita income stood at a mere Rs. 4,281 in 1990-91.8 Even in 1993-94, 40.9 per cent of the population was below the poverty line.9 Per capita bank deposits are the lowest in the country, at Rs. 2,715.10 In other words, in a region where poverty and unemployment were rampant, and resource constraints acute, the government was simply handing out over 90 times and more of the then State annual per capita income to anyone who claimed to be a terrorist, and expressed willingness to surrender.

Between June 1, 1992 and March 31, 1997, 4,843 terrorists (3,439 ULFA and 1,404 Bodo) were ‘rehabilitated’ under the scheme, at a staggering cost of Rs. 99.30 crores. Out of this, Rs. 30.30 crore-margin money was provided by the State government and an amount of Rs.69 crores as loan was given by various nationalised banks against State government guarantee. This was not the limit of the state’s largesse. Some 813 SULFA men were also given government employment. The scheme also included a self-employment programme providing for avenues created by the State government in occupations including piggery farming, fishery, poultry farming, broiler farming, dairy farming, mini tea gardening, etc.11 The very large – and largely unproductive – outlays on these schemes were only the visible costs of the surrender policy. The social and economic costs of the creation of the SULFA were to prove far more devastating. But the proximate logic and consequences need some further elaboration.

The surrender scheme was primarily justified on the ground that prevailing levels of unemployment would drive the surrendered terrorists back into militancy, and hence that the state had a duty to ensure that the SULFA were gainfully employed. But the levels of unemployment in the State, Gill observes, should have been "an argument for the generation of greater employment for all youth, rather than an argument for preferential discrimination in favour of those among them who choose to resort to terrorist or criminal violence."12 Surrenders, Gill pointed out, were also encouraged in Punjab during the later stages of the terrorist movement there, but with critical differences in the terms offered:

In most cases, the surrendered terrorists were simply allowed to return home. The law was allowed to take its own course in the case of those who were accused of heinous crimes, and the police was far from vindictive. Nevertheless, no financial incentives were ever provided, nor did the state act as if it owed a debt of gratitude to these offenders because they had decided to abandon their criminal activities….

It is widely conceded that the Punjab economy has suffered a dramatic downslide, that the fragmentation of land holdings and the lack of industrial development have created large pools of the unemployed. Yet, the absence of "pensions" and "rehabilitation packages" for the surrendered Punjab militants does not appear to have pushed them back into violence. The lesson has been learned: violence will not pay.

Unfortunately, the uncertain wisdom of policymakers in the North-East… is communicating precisely the opposite lesson. Violence does pay. And after it stops paying, or after it has paid enough to create incentives for "retirement", or after exhaustion has set in, surrenders can be made to pay as well. The entire policy creates incentives for individuals to join the ranks of the terrorists, if only to surrender shortly thereafter.13

The immediate impact of the surrender scheme, moreover, was far from the intent. A confidential report of the Special Branch of the Assam Police notes: "Neither the scheme was successful in giving employment to the surrenderees nor the loanees refunded the loans for which the State government as guarantor has to face great difficulty now (sic)." Another observer notes, "while initially some SULFA were provided jobs in BSF, CRPF and Railways, the State government later realized that this could be self-defeating as a perception might grow that joining militancy was a good launching pad for joining Government service."14 D.N. Bezboruah, editor of the influential local daily, The Sentinel, described the surrender package as ‘perverted’, adding, "That is why it failed. There were easy cash and soft loans but none of the projects really got off. Result was a Frankenstein monster."15

The failure of Hiteshwar Saikia’s ‘Margin Money’ scheme led, not to the rejection of the approach that sought to bribe terrorists away from their violent activities, but to another surrender scheme launched by the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta government with the backing of the Centre in August 1998. The new scheme was proclaimed as an improvement over its predecessor, and introduced with great fanfare with the projected objective to "wean away the misguided youth and hardcore militants that have strayed into the folds of militancy and now find themselves trapped into that net."16 Mahanta made it a point to declare that, unlike Hiteshwar Saikia’s policy, the surrendered terrorists would not be given soft bank loans to start businesses.17 The salient features18 of the scheme were:

  • The scheme was applicable to those militants who had surrendered/surrender after 01.04.98, surrender with at least one arm (listed under the scheme and not having availed benefit of any earlier scheme for surrender). However, in exceptional and deserving cases, militants who surrender without arms, may also be considered for rehabilitation under the scheme.
  • Monetary incentive will be available for the surrendered weapons. Details of incentives for weapons are annexed herewith;
  • Surrenderee will be initially lodged in a Rehabilitation Camp where they will be imparted training in a trade/vocation;
  • Surrenderee shall be paid a monthly stipend for a period of 12 months. Stipend shall not exceed Rs.2,000/- p.m.;
  • Surrender shall not imply amnesty from the crimes which will be subject to due process of laws; and
  • The Government of India would provide 100% reimbursement for expenditure incurred on the rehabilitation of surrenderees.

The scheme offered cash rewards for each weapon surrendered, ranging from Rs. 25,000 for each Rocket Launchers/UMG/GPMG/PIMCA/ Sniper Rifle to Rs. 3 per round of all types of ammunition. Explosive material fetched Rs. 1,000 per kg; remote control devices, Rs. 3,000; and wireless sets, Rs. 1,000 (short range) to Rs. 5,000 (long range).

The scheme was intended to apply to terrorists surrendering with "at least one arm", but since there was a provision for screening in "exceptional and deserving cases among militants who surrender without arms," the latter clause was widely abused. A large proportion of those who ‘surrendered’ were far from hardcore militants, and many – though data on this point is unavailable, may have had nothing to do with the militancy, and ‘surrendered’ only to reap the benefits of the rehabilitation largesse. Even among the hardcore cadres, while the militants were technically not permitted to retain their arms (though gun licenses were subsequently issued for ‘self defense’ to leading SULFA members), the weapons that were actually surrendered were predominantly junk. Thus, "the 51 terrorists who surrendered in the first round in 1998 at Thakurbari brought along only 16 weapons, including six outdated .303 rifles. Similarly in the second round of surrenders at Mariani along the Assam-Nagaland border, the number of surrenderees was 140, but the weapons deposited totaled only 41, including 20 pistols and revolvers."19 Needless to say, since the government was under pressure to demonstrate the ‘success’ of the policy through ‘surrender ceremonies’ involving large numbers of ‘terrorists’, the clause relating to the screening of ‘exceptional and deserving cases’ was entirely ignored. More than 500 militants surrendered in the year 1998, but, according to senior State government officials, they were never produced before the Screening Committee. The scheme also explicitly stated that there would be no amnesty for serious crimes committed in the past by the surrendering militants.20 However, none of the surrendered militants have been interrogated, nor has any charge sheet been filed against them even for the most serious crimes known to have been committed by many of the prominent SULFA leaders.

The scheme, moreover, required all surrendered terrorists to be held in ‘rehabilitation camps’ for a period of up to one year after their surrender,21 but this was also followed more in the breach than in practice. Indeed, till November 1999, the Assam government had not opened even a single rehabilitation centre22. A series of programmes were, however, initiated in various centres for surrendered militants on November 27, 1999. These included ‘motivational programmes’, yoga, composite farming, raising of mini tea gardens, poultry, piggery, dairy farming and fishery modules under the Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship (IIE) and the Industrial Training Institutes (ITI). The participation in these programmes was modest, ranging from 22 at Dibrugarh to 132 at Bongaigaon. The duration of the training and vocational programmes varied between as little as one day at Tinsukia to eight days at the 10th AP Battalion Camp at Khettri. Some permanent camps have, however, been in existence in the Army and Police headquarters and encampments for the protection of SULFA cadres against the wrath of their erstwhile comrades in the ULFA.

The irony of the ‘rehabilitation scheme’, in a backward State riddled with poverty, is brought out extraordinarily well – albeit unintentionally – in a bathos laden report by Avirook Sen on a surrendered terrorist’s wait at a military camp:

The self-styled sergeant-major of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) Prabin Kalita missed three world cups in a row. He didn't miss France '98 though: in the safety of the army's 77 Mountain Brigade headquarters, Kalita was able to watch some of the best moments of football. "I was always interested in football, but the nearest radio or TV set would usually be four or five hours away," Kalita says now of his 12 years as an ultra in Assam. All that has changed for Kalita and 50 other ULFA militants. Now there's a TV in the barracks. There's also a badminton court, a carom board and card games. And after spending two months in relative comfort, the insurgents laid down arms before the governor at a "rehabilitation ceremony", organized by the army on July 24.23

It would be interesting to discover how many law abiding Assamese citizens have access to the luxuries that the State felt it owed Kalita as a result of his "12 years as an ultra." But the State offers more. According to a State government report on Rehabilitation Projects, the ‘surrenderees’ had already formed 14 cooperative societies, and government land has been allotted to some of these to engage in farming activities.24 Though estimates of the actual costs incurred on running these programmes are not available, the range of training, the resources allocated and the scale of some of the activities suggests figures that are far from modest.

According to the 1998 Scheme, the actual implementation of the rehabilitation packages was substantially to be executed by approved non-governmental organisations (NGOs),25 with the State government working as a coordinating and supervising agency. Here, again, the planners’ vision was severely flawed. The SULFA comprised a group of surrendered terrorists, and their linkages with both the underground and the SULFA syndicates that had already established themselves under the 1992 scheme. Legitimate NGOs were hardly in a position to resist any threats from the SULFA themselves; moreover, they ran the twin risk of attracting the ire of the ULFA and other insurgent groups by running the rehabilitation centers intended to wean away cadres from the militancy. "With genuine NGOs likely to stay away, what the rehabilitation scheme may result in is the creation of some fly-by-night organizations out to make a fast buck."26 What results, consequently, is a combination of scams and complete neglect.

The implementation of the scheme was also dominated by a great deal of symbolism and little substance. Large ‘surrender ceremonies’ were a matter of political prestige, irrespective of the rag tag batches of unemployed hoodlums who were roped in. Large numbers of ‘cooperatives’ were formed by the surrendered terrorists, but most of these existed only on paper. Departmental objections also blocked various projects and allocations of land to these cooperatives.27 However, some symbolic projects were implemented and projected as the great ‘successes’ of the scheme. Thus 73 surrendered militants, including the former ULFA leader Abinash Bordoloi28, were involved in harvesting paddy and mustard flower on a 150-bigha plot of land under the aegis of the ‘Udyan Multipurpose Cooperative Society’ at Bhanbhag Salbari in Nalbari district.29

Evidence of the abject failure of the scheme is now mounting. To the extent that the rehabilitation programme was intended to weaken the ULFA, it is more than clear that this has not happened, and the rate of replacement of cadres has remained sufficiently high to keep the organization alive and dangerous. While ‘margin money’ and ‘soft loans’ were not part of the rehabilitation scheme, unpaid loans have nevertheless created a major problem and according to a report "Although there are no official figures available, it is believed that the total dues on account of these unpaid loans run into billions of rupees."30 Further confirmation of the sheer extent of the failure comes from an unexpected source, and in an unexpected context. Even as Prafulla Kumar Mahanta boasted of the ‘success’ of his surrender policy, he was, by early 2000, already admitting that there was need to amend the rehabilitation package as the existing package was "not adequate to encourage the insurgents to come to the mainstream. He suggested that to make the package more attractive, a margin money scheme should be added to it and the Centre can also announce a recruitment policy for appointing surrendered militants in the armed forces – CRPF, BSF and the PSUs."31 In other words, Mahanta was arguing for the restoration of virtually every element of the Hiteshwar Saikia scheme that his government had so strongly criticized barely a year and a half earlier. The consensus at the Centre also endorses the comprehensive failure of the scheme, and the Union Home Ministry’s Annual Report for the year 1999-2000 notes that "The experience of the north-eastern States under this scheme has not been very encouraging. There is a need to review the scheme."32

The Real Costs: Organized Crime and the Culture of Violence

The direct costs of administering the surrender schemes are, however, negligible in proportion to the real economic and social costs that have emerged as a result of the creation of the SULFA. Officially, of course, the surrender scheme sought the ‘rehabilitation’ of the militants in the ‘mainstream’, and in legitimate professions and vocations of their own liking. In fact, with the exception of a few prominent leaders such as Abinash Bordoloi, and a handful of the surrendered cadres who returned home and tried to reconstruct their lives within the ambit of the law, the majority of the SULFA simply continued with what they were doing before their surrender: extortion, intimidation, crimes of extreme violence, and the terrorization of wide sections of the population. The difference, of course – and one that is extremely important to the political leadership of the State – is that these activities are now engaged in without any pretence of a political or, more specifically, anti-state or anti-regime agenda. For this ‘concession’ alone, moreover, their activities are tolerated at the very centres of governance, and the dangers and discomforts of a life on the run in the jungle have been replaced with lives of extreme luxury in the cities and towns of Assam. What this transformation does to the lives of the common people of the State, however, is a different matter, and is evident in a sampling of the reports on the ‘activities’ of the SULFA that come to light from time to time.

The visible tip of the iceberg of SULFA activities impinging on the security of the common man in Assam is manifested in "the menace of gun-toting SULFA men intimidating people for extortion."33 The handful of cases in which the police have been goaded to arrest or act against the culprits gives an indication of the sheer scope and invasive character of these activities. Thus, on February 13, 2000, SULFA activist Jayanta Gogoi was arrested in North Lakhimpur attempting to extort money from a shopkeeper.34 On February 24, 2000, the Guwahati police arrested SULFA leader Manoj Hazarika for planning to collect ‘regular taxes’ from the Public Call Offices (PCOs) in the city.35 On February 16, 2000, police in Chandmari arrested three SULFA men on charges of abducting two businessmen of Guwahati.36 In the same month, recovery of five stolen vehicles in Guwahati led to the discovery of a roaring stolen vehicle business run by SULFA activists Dhekial Phukan and Kajal Khan.37 SULFA leader Putul Das was arrested on March 23, 2000 in connection with a bomb explosion case inside Itachali police outpost in Nagaon town.38 On April 15, 2000, police in Panbazar in Guwahati arrested a SULFA activist, Jiten Gogoi, on charges of extortion from a computer firm. According to police sources, the accused demanded Rs. 10,000 monthly in addition to Rs.800 per Internet connection provided by the firm.39 SULFA activist Krishna Hazarika was arrested for threatening a civilian in the Beltola Tiniali area of Guwahati on May 14, 2000.40 Two SULFA activists were arrested while demanding Rs. 50,000 in the name of ULFA at Lahdaigarh on June 29, 2000.41 Four SULFA activists were arrested on charges of demanding Rs.3.2 million from timber traders in Lanka.42 On October 19, 2000, an illegal checkpoint erected by SULFA activists for collection of money from passing vehicles was dismantled in the Barnihat area.43 On September 14, police in Basistha arrested a SULFA activist Jitu Goswami for trying to occupy a plot of land belonging to another person.44 Three SULFA activists were arrested on charges of abducting a businessman in Morigaon in October 2000.45 On October 16, 2000, "after failing to collect ‘goonda tax’ from the fisher man at Balbala Bazar near Goalpara, armed SULFA activists resorted to indiscriminate firing leading to the death of one and injury to eight other fishermen."46 Police in Bharalu, on October 26, rescued a girl abducted by a SULFA activist Manoj Hazarika.47 On November 6, 2000, police in Noonamati arrested SULFA activist Dhruba Talukdar and his accomplice for vandalism in a cinema hall.48

These arrests and actions, however, are mere aberrations in the larger scheme of complicity and terror under which a majority of cases go unreported. In the first week of October 2000, for instance, nearly 70 villagers of Tengapanigaon in Tinsukia district submitted a memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner urging him to take action against the SULFA’s extortion drive.49 Individual instances of extortion, moreover, represent only a fraction of the activities of the SULFA, which now either controls all important business activities in the State, or allows them to function only under its ‘protection’ – obviously for a substantial ‘consideration’. The takeover of legitimate businesses by the ULFA has immensely distorted the legal economy, making it impossible for businesses to operate competitively in the absence of ‘protection’ from SULFA cadres. A large number of traders have consequently been thrown out of business by force, while a ‘goonda tax’ is imposed on others. Indeed, in May 2000, the Director General of Police was compelled to take cognizance of the magnitude of the problem and to direct all District Superintendents of Police in the State to immediately take action against the SULFA and furnish all relevant information about their activities to the State police headquarters.50 The directive was, at best, symbolic, as the power of the SULFA and its patrons in government prevailed to ensure that no significant damage was done to its basic operations.

In the month of May 2000, in a complaint to the Central government, a group of businessmen outlined the immensity of the problem, and the degree to which the entire system had been penetrated and subverted by the SULFA. According to them, no one except SULFA cadres were allowed to collect tender documents for all major government contracts. Police sources confirmed that, while the Railways and the Telecom sectors were the worst affected, other departments including the Guwahati Refinery, Flood Control, Irrigation, Municipal Corporations and the Public Works Department (PWD) also face the same problem at the time of floating, receiving and finalizing tenders.51

The SULFA’s terror extends further, deep into the operations and institutional apparatus of the government itself. Unofficial sources suggest that virtually every government department pays out a proportion of its budgetary allocations to the SULFA (and, for good measure, to the ULFA), and this has been confirmed in many cases by open source information. A report in September 2000 indicated that SULFA cadres were extracting a ten per cent ‘commission’ from officials at the Procurement Centers of the Jute Corporation of India (JCI) at Kharupetia and Dhubri. As a result, the JCI had to stop procurement at Kharupetia for some time, until the district administration and the police intervened. The officials at the centers at Dhubri town, Lakhiganj (Dhubri) and Abhayapuri (Bongaigaon) faced similar problems as well.52 A similar racket on rail contracts was also exposed recently in a report that claimed, "Construction work for upgradation of the 198-km-long Silchar–Lumding metre gauge railway track into a broad gauge line has been jeopardised by a syndicate which has links with a section of SULFA activists."53

The enormity of these examples still fails to approximate the real magnitude of the SULFA’s operations. In a stagnant economy, with declining rates of industrial growth, increasing unemployment, and no visible basis for improvements in legitimate economic activity, H.N. Das, former Chief Secretary of Assam, indicated that signs of an artificial boom financed by the funds that are accumulated through extortion and the siphoning out of governmental resources were multiplying at an unprecedented rate. In Guwahati city alone, Das discloses, over 604 multi-storied buildings, housing residential and commercial apartments, had come up over the period 1995-2000 alone. These are said to have involved an investment of over Rs. 12 billion. Most of these buildings are owned or constructed by prominent SULFA cadres, or by those who collude with them. The entire riverfront in Guwahati, Das states further, is dotted with new and palatial private mansions – once again, SULFA members and their associates predominantly own these.54 Das also pointed to a number of secondary indicators of dramatic increases in disposable income and conspicuous consumption among a narrow section of the population in the State. Other sources indicate that a number of very prominent businesses, including several new hotels set up in Guwahati and other prominent locations in the State, are owned by the SULFA, which also runs the cable television network in the city.

The ‘Road Tax Syndicate’ illustrates the modus operandi of some of SULFA’s larger operations. The Jhalukbari and Khanapara gates in Guwahati control almost all the commercial traffic that enters the entire Northeast region, with the exception of the route to Arunachal Pradesh through Tezpur [which, incidentally, is said to be controlled by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB)]. On a conservative estimate, some 1,500 trucks pass through these gates every day, and conservative estimates by official sources indicate that the total ‘levies’ extorted from them are in the region of one to 1.5 million rupees a day. Once the trucks enter Guwahati, the ‘Sales Tax Syndicate’ comes into play: the loads of most of the trucks simply disappear from the official record; in other cases, high value goods – such as spices – are officially recorded as low value goods – such as rice or pulses – and a nominal tax is paid. The difference is split between the SULFA cadres controlling the syndicate, the transporters, and the sales tax officials – with a significant proportion also trickling up to the political patrons who facilitate these arrangements.55

SULFA has also profited from a number of windfall gains as a result of government policies allegedly framed in collusion with its leadership. Thus, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) government in the years 1999 and 2000 decided to create 800 wine shops in the State (in two batches of 400 shops each), of which some 90 per cent are alleged by official sources to have been allotted to SULFA cadres against a kickback of Rs. 400,000 per shop which is said to have been shared by the political leadership, government officials and senior ULFA leaders.

SULFA also controls a substantial proportion of rail traffic and runs a number of organized scams, including the illegal offloading of government supplied foodgrain intended for the Public Distribution System (PDS).56

Similarly, governmental resources intended for rural development flow in substantially to the SULFA, ULFA and the NDFB in their various ‘areas of influence.’

The cumulative total of these financial transactions is impossible to estimate, given the current availability of information, but would be a staggering proportion of the total resources in the State, and would certainly be far greater than any single legitimate industrial or corporate enterprise could generate through its businesses in the State.

The Business of Murder

Violence and the threat of violence underpin this entire, gigantic and diversified network of illegal and quasi-legal enterprises. The SULFA controls these businesses and activities, not by dint of any extraordinary effort or genius for commerce, but by explicit and pervasive terror. And this terror is maintained within a clear system of collusion with certain agencies of the state and with certain elements and a faction among the political leadership, in view of the perceived utility of this criminal organization for ends entirely unrelated to the original intent of the surrender schemes – that is, the disarming and rehabilitation of militants who were willing to abandon the way of the gun. Indeed, both the Congress and the AGP governments in the past have chosen to use the SULFA as an amoral instrumentality, on the one hand, to further partisan political interests and, on the other, as a weapon in transient and often extra-constitutional counter-terrorism operations. It is now widely acknowledged that SULFA has been used to attack the ULFA, settle political scores and intimidate rivals. In return, the Assam government, under both the Congress and AGP regimes, gave the SULFA a free hand to practice extortion in the cities of Assam and this situation is a direct consequence of the unprincipled surrender policies of 1992 and 1998.

The 1998 scheme was supposed to have avoided the pitfalls of the 1992 scheme. As Lt. Gen. (Retd.) S.K. Sinha, the Governor of Assam, who also played a significant role in putting together the AGP government’s surrender and rehabilitation packages, asserted, "our rehabilitation scheme is totally different. We never allowed them to retain weapons nor gave them each funds."57 In actual practice, however, the politics of expediency simply set up a second faction of the SULFA, in this case significantly aligned to the AGP. As for arms, not only did the surrendering cadres fail to surrender all their weapons – they surrendered only a fraction, and most of these were obsolete – they were subsequently provided gun licences and armed guards by the state as well, on grounds of their personal security against retributive attacks by the ULFA. Thus, the possession of arms by the SULFA, often illegal in nature, remains an open secret. In January 2001, a government official conceded that "It is true that there are many illegal weapons in the hands of the surrendered militants."58 Fitful efforts by the police to disarm the SULFA – hastily abandoned under political and internal pressure on each occasion – have thrown up some evidence of such illegal arms possession. Thus, when two AK-56 rifles and some ammunition were discovered from a garbage dump in Guwahati in the first week of January 2000, the police blamed SULFA activists and claimed that these "were dumped by the SULFA ostensibly to evade police action against illegal weapon-holders among them."59 The ‘police action’ had been initiated as a result of mounting public pressure to restrain suspected renegades from allegedly persecuting family members of ULFA militants.

The provision of Personal Security Officers (PSOs) by the government to SULFA leaders created its own complications. Given the status of the PSOs relative to that of the SULFA leaders they were intended to protect, many of these PSOs were also subverted and used for intimidation and other criminal activities by the SULFA. This was seen, for instance, in the reported case of the firm CARE formed by some SULFA cadres, which had been engaged by the Guwahati Municipal Corporation to keep the city’s Fancy Bazaar area clean. CARE forcibly collects an exorbitant levy from the businessmen in the area, and any resistance or failure to pay is followed by physical assault. On March 3, 2001 several businessmen of the Jalan market were roughed up by SULFA men, led by Lohit Deuri, and by their PSOs, because they resisted the levy collection.60 There are also instances of wider police complicity in acts of vandalism and intimidation. On May 19, 2000, for instance, "A posse of Assam police personnel and armed surrendered Ulfa men intruded inside Lokon village, some 35 KMs from Mon town and about half a kilometre from the boundary with Assam, on Wednesday, and allegedly assaulted 35 villagers. They also abducted seven gaonburahs (village headmen) who were later released."61

Till the end of the year 2000, as many as 38 former militant leaders in the State had been provided with armed PSOs in civilian dress. In the beginning of the year 2001, the police decided to withdraw these PSOs from 20 of the former terrorists, basically on three grounds: involvement in criminal activities; reduced security threat; and misuse of the PSOs by the protected persons (PPs). The Courts, however, intervened on petitions filed by some SULFA leaders who were slated to lose these ‘benefits’, and the police was told to maintain the status quo.62 The only step the administration could take in January 2001was to ask the PSOs to "wear uniforms and display their identity cards to avoid any kind of ‘misunderstanding’ between the police and the public."63

The possession of illegal arms is at the heart of the most controversial aspect of the SULFA’s operations – their alleged use in counter-terrorism operations and their involvement in what are referred to as gupt hoitya (secret killings). A succession of fratricidal killings has been witnessed since the ‘punitive’ strikes by the ULFA against those who ‘betrayed the cause’ by surrendering. The killings follow a cycle of apparently retaliatory violence against the killings of SULFA cadres by the ULFA, but there is at least a measure of evidence that the state and its agencies have been involved in some of the targeted killings by the SULFA.

These killings intensified dramatically in the latter half of the year 2000, in the run-up to the State Legislative Assembly elections. However, they have been an accepted part of the ‘ground realities’ of life in Assam for several years. As one commentator notes, "At least 50 surrendered ULFA or SULFA militants have been killed in the past three years, while more than 30 family members of the top ULFA leaders were shot dead by unidentified gunmen during the same period."64 Estimates of actual casualties vary, and, on the higher side, Lachit Bordoloi of the Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS), claimed in 1999 that, "Since 1998, more than 110 people have been victims of these secret killings."65 The reliability of this claim must, however, be qualified with the understanding that MASS is widely known to be aligned with the ULFA, and a recent Union Ministry of Home Affairs notification identified it as one of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) known to have linkages with militant groups.66

Among the victims of the environment of competitive belligerence in the State was Parag Kumar Das, Executive Editor of the local daily Asomiya Pratidin and a human rights activist, who was shot dead by suspected SULFA members on May 17, 1996. Das was a known ULFA sympathizer and more importantly a vocal SULFA critic. Curiously enough, the incident occurred only two days after the AGP government led by Prafulla Kumar Mahanta took office.67 In what has been interpreted as a retaliatory measure, SULFA businessman Tapan Dutta was killed by suspected ULFA terrorists on July 26, 1998.68 This was followed by the killing of Diganta Baruah, a suspect in the Parag Das killing, on December 3, 1998.69 Another accused in the same case, Dhekial Phukan was never convicted, and reportedly went on to establish a stolen car business in Guwahati.70

A sensational case of a bungled attempt to murder which exposed police complicity with the SULFA was that of Ananta Kalita, a member of the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chhatra Parishad (AJYCP), an organization known for its pro-ULFA outlook. SULFA activists from Kalitakuchi village near Hajo town abducted him on September 16, 1999. The abductors reportedly first took him blindfolded to a police station. The following night he was taken to Jorabat, a hilly area about 20 km from Guwahati. With his hands tied behind his back, he was shot below his ear and pushed over a 150-foot precipice. Ananta Kalita survived to tell the story, much to the embarrassment of the government and the police.71

Another suspicious case involved Parameswar Das, a former ULFA militant who did not join the SULFA ranks, but gave up militancy to attend to his pregnant wife. According to reports, it was his refusal to provide information to the police regarding the ULFA that cost him his life. On the night of June 22, 1999, four SULFA men abducted him from his house in Hajo. Das’s headless body was recovered later.72

Prior to the Assembly Elections in 2001, a sudden spurt in ULFA strikes across the State – including some in areas that had seen no violence for a significant period of time – unsettled the security administration, and reports suggest that a number of ‘demonstration’ killings were executed by the SULFA to ‘send a message’ to the ULFA, and to contain the insurgent group’s pre-election violence.73 These killings, however, have also been interpreted as part of the political polarization that precedes elections, and the alleged nexus between political parties and both these armed groups.74 In this context, there were a number of attacks on relatives of the ULFA terrorists since December 2000. "The ancestral home of ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah was attacked. Dipak Chowdhury, brother of Sasha Chowdhury, Chief of ULFA’s external wing, was shot dead at his Nalbari residence. The house of Sashi Phukan, another ULFA cadre, was blown up at Baihata in Kamrup district. The house was earlier attacked seven times. ULFA miliant Dhristi Rajkhowa’s house was also attacked in Goalpara."75 Jyotish Sarma, an employee at the Guwahati University and brother-in-law of ULFA terrorist Subhas Sarma was also killed by suspected SULFA cadres in the first week of January 2001.76 Violence from one camp also provoked retaliatory violence from the other. A SULFA terrorist Monikut Kolita was killed in Mangaldoi. On the very second day of the year 2001, noted SULFA leader Abinash Bordoloi and two of his accomplices were gunned down by ULFA hitmen at Bongbagh Solmara village in Nalbari district.77

As a result of this brutal chain of killings and counter-killings – and particularly the targeting of relatives of ULFA leaders and terrorists – there was a wave of public revulsion across the State and a substantial measure of sympathy for the ULFA. Indeed, the more prominent among what were referred to as the ‘mystery killings’ or secret killings were followed by unprecedented mass demonstrations, with thousands of people taking to the streets, especially at Nalbari and Guwahati. Some 8,000 persons are reported to have joined the funeral processions of Dwijen Haloi and Pulin Haloi, kin of the ULFA ‘deputy commander-in-chief’, Raju Baruah. Similarly, over 5,000 people joined the funeral procession of Jyotish Sharma, brother-in-law of the ULFA cadre, Subhash Sharma. On January 5, 2001, hundreds of people took to the streets in Nalbari demanding action against SULFA and appealed to the administration to disarm them.78 Police in the State appear to have conceded SULFA involvement in these incidents, and the Guwahati City Superintendent of Police, G.P. Singh publicly declared that he would take all possible steps to disarm the SULFA members ‘within seven days’.79 That, of course, was in early January 2001. There is little subsequent evidence of any effective measures to secure this objective having consistently been taken thereafter. At least part of the problem in this context arises from within the police organization itself, and the perceived ‘utility’ of the SULFA among a section of the officials. The Director General of Police, H.K. Deka, was reportedly in favor of taking action against the SULFA, but others are said to have argued that "SULFA members have been helping the police by providing information and other assistance against the ULFA. Besides, there is a question of their security."80

The use of surrendered militants as a force multiplier for counter-insurgency operations is widely acknowledged in Assam. In view of the sensitivity of the issue, the SFs have, however, consistently denied such practices. Thus, on January 9, 2001, a statement issued by the Assam police said, "The Assam Police does not maintain any link whatsoever with anti-social forces."81 Whether the SULFA is regarded by the police as an ‘anti-social force’, however, remains open to interpretation. Unfortunately, from the official perspective, SULFA leaders have tended to undermine the SF’s position. On May 22, 1999, prominent SULFA leader Siddhartha Phukan (now Sunil Nath) thus accused the government of ‘blackmailing’ former terrorists into providing information about the militant outfit. Nath said that he and his comrades committed certain mistakes in the past, of which the government was taking advantage.82

In an effort to counter the charge of using SULFA for intelligence gathering against the ULFA, Lt. Gen. D.B. Shekatkar, head of the Operations Group of the Unified Command Structure, speaking to the press on April 11, 1999, dismissed the effectiveness of surrendered terrorists as a source of information. "Those who surrender are usually those who have resorted to fence-sitting for several months before deciding to lay down arms. Since they are fence sitters and lukewarm to happenings taking place underground, they can hardly be regarded as a storehouse of information about the latest that is happening."83 Shekatkar added that the "usefulness of a surrendered militant was very restricted in the long run. When a militant who has surrendered recently is of no use to us, how can the SULFA, which came overground seven years ago, have any utility for our information gathering machinery?"84 What Shekatkar chose to overlook is the continuous addition to SULFA’s number that keep the latter updated with ULFA’s activities, and the continuum of surviving linkages and relationships that create opportunities for information flow. Such an argument, moreover, can only apply to the use of the SULFA as a source of information – to which there can be no very serious objection, unless the arrangement is coercive. The more serious allegations regarding the operational use of the SULFA, including the charges regarding the secret killings, however, are not even addressed in this defense.

More damaging, however, was the then Assam Flood Minister, Promode Gogoi’s accusation in January 2001, that the State police was conniving with the surrendered militants to target family members of ULFA leaders, in order to put pressure on the ULFA leadership to come forward for peace talks with the government.85 Police authorities, of course, immediately denied this allegation. But the fact that a sitting Minister chose to air such serious charge certainly gives rise to strong suspicions.

The Politics of Crime

Any apparent operational advantages of the ‘protection’ extended to SULFA that may accrue to the security forces in counter-insurgency operations, however, are peripheral to the logic of the patronage extended to, and consequently the survival of, the organization. The foundations of SULFA’s growth lie elsewhere: first, in the enormous quantum of financial resources that it has come to control, and that it recycles through the political leadership and the bureaucracy in the State; and second, possibly more significantly, in the degree to which violence now pervades the politics of the State. The result is that all political parties seek alliances of convenience with the SULFA – as they do, from time to time, with the ULFA. To the extent that the ULFA operates in the context of an ideology that makes anti-state violence essential for credibility, its relationship with successive regimes is inherently volatile and unsound. The SULFA, on the other hand, offers the possibilities of relatively stable collusive arrangements. Stability, it has been remarked, is integral to the character and continued existence of collusive arrangements. These collusive arrangements in Assam have resulted in the consolidation of conditions of what Lt. Gen. (Retd.) S.K. Pillai aptly describes as a "stable anarchy."86 Here, the rule of law lapses entirely, as the institutions of governance are subverted to serve personal and partisan ends of those who control them – directly, or through such collusive arrangements as may obtain – even while the edifice and processes of governance, including the electoral process and justice administration, remain apparently intact.

The discourse on this issue came out into the open in the run-up to the Legislative Assembly Elections of May 2001, when an intense debate was generated regarding the alleged nexus between factions of the SULFA, on the one hand, and the ruling AGP and the Congress-I, on the other. Several SULFA leaders had sought Congress-I and AGP tickets for these elections.87 For good measure, there were also allegations of an implicit understanding between the Congress-I and ULFA.88 These allegations are, of course, routinely denied, but the evidence will not go away, and the fact is that each political party in the State does maintain some contact with the SULFA – although this varies in character and intensity from party to party, and from time to time. The larger than life image that the SULFA has acquired over the years makes such an arrangement virtually indispensable, both for the ruling and the opposition parties – and these arrangements, in turn, enormously reinforce SULFA’s power and ‘credibility’.

Once again, glimpses of the proverbial tip of the iceberg are available in open source reports. Thus, we find that, on June 25, 2000 Nava Talukdar, a SULFA activist nominated to the post of Vice-President of the State Committee of Assam Pradesh Youth Congress Committee was arrested on charges of vandalism.89 A few months before the State Assembly elections in 2001 nearly 300 SULFA activists joined the AGP.90 At least two SULFA leaders, Chakra Gohain, the former ULFA armed wing ‘deputy chief’ and Prafulla Bora alias Dhekial Phukan, former Lakhimpur ‘district commander’ applied for Congress party nominations to contest the elections.91 The AGP actively considered SULFA leader Lohit Deuri’s request for a party ticket from the Nalbari constituency. Another SULFA leader Jayanta Hazarika alias Kushal Duwari negotiated with both the AGP and the Congress-I for a ticket from a constituency in Sibasagar district.92 There have also been instances of parties such as the Communist Party of India – Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML) being accused of maintaining links with the SULFA.93

SULFA’s role in the State Legislative Assembly elections seemed to be fairly clearly defined, as both the AGP and Congress-I leaders accused each other of harbouring SULFA cadres in a bid to rig the elections. The Congress party went to the extent of appealing to the Election Commission, seeking its direction to the State government to rein in the SULFA.94 In the run-up to the elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which eventually became the AGP’s poll partner, had raised apprehensions regarding the use of SULFA by the AGP.95

The SULFA, in this regard, is not a unitary monolith, and there are clear factions within the organization. The most important – though entirely indistinct – line of demarcation is between those who are aligned with the Congress-I, predominantly those who surrendered under Hiteshwar Saikia’s scheme of 1992, and those who are ‘close to’ the AGP, largely militants who gave up arms under the scheme of 1998. These, however, are not firm lines, and constant realignments are defined in terms of the imperatives of expediency and profitability.

The May 2001 Legislative Assembly elections in Assam brought in a new Congress-I government, and with it, the opportunities and expectations of some change. Given the acrimony of allegations prior to the elections, there were some initial suspicions regarding the Tarun Gogoi government’s orientation to the entire issue of the insurgency and violence in the State, and it was widely expected that a ‘soft line’, accommodative approach would be adopted. One editorial spoke of allegations of the Chief Minister’s "strong links with the ULFA", which would make it "easier for him to bring them to the negotiating table."96 The government subsequently set this line of speculation to rest, and declared that counter-insurgency operations would continue uninterrupted.97 Speaking to senior civil and police officers, Gogoi stated, "The menace of terrorism has to be dealt with firmly, and any ethnic and communal trouble has to be kept under absolute check."98 While the SULFA was not mentioned by name, Assam’s Minister of State for Home, Pardyut Bordoloi, also articulated a similar line regarding the "menace of mafia-type activities". Bordoloi noted "the emergence of crime syndicates in the State which are using guns and muscle power to capture and control contracts and business," and went on to add that his government was "determined to put a stop to all kinds of illegal activities."99 A separate ‘control room’ to monitor and to receive and respond to complaints of intimidation and criminal activities by the SULFA was also announced.100

While it is still premature to arrive at any conclusion regarding the Tarun Gogoi government’s long-term orientation to a problem as complex and entrenched as the SULFA, the fact remains that the record of initial performance is far from unambiguous. Indeed, some observers have noted that, despite the rhetoric and the occasional action, the "Tarun Gogoi government has been failing to take any drastic measures"101 to put an end to the activities of the various ‘syndicates’ controlled by the SULFA. Worse, there is limited evidence that suggests that what is actually occurring is a violent contest for control of these syndicates between factions of the SULFA aligned to the earlier Mahanta government, and those who have closer links with the Congress-I government now in power. The police raid on the residence of SULFA leaders Jogesh Kishor Mahanta and Bhaskar Sharma, who control the so-called ‘coal syndicate’ at Beltola, is a case in point. Mahanta and Sharma are reported to have been "close to former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta." The police raid, interestingly, is reported to have been organized in response to "a complaint lodged by a section of the SULFA leaders."102

Further and dramatic evidence of the repositioning of SULFA factions came in the wake of the Moran massacre of SULFA cadres on June 21, 2001. The operation was immediately blamed on an ULFA-National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) combine by the police,103 but the theory was subsequently questioned by the State Finance, Revenue and Power Minister, Debanand Konwar, who questioned the haste with which the blame was pinned on the ULFA and the NSCN even before the investigation started, and described the police investigation as "nothing but an effort to hoodwink the people, hush up the real truth and shield the real culprits."104 Subsequent, albeit speculative, media reports suggested that the Moran massacre might have been the result of a factional feud within the SULFA.105 The truth on this will certainly take time to establish – and may, indeed, never be known – but more specific evidence of the deepening cleavage and competition within the SULFA did come in the form of widely divergent responses to the Moran massacre by two separate groups of SULFA leaders. Thus, at a Press Conference on June 22, 2001, Jayanta Hazarika alias Kushal Duri, Kalpajyoti Neog, and others made a fervent appeal "to all sections concerned to stop this violence." Hazarika went even further, saying that he repented for all the wrongs that he had done "under duress or forced upon him by the administration" and appealed to the ULFA "to condone the boys for their involuntary association with counter-insurgency operations after coming overground."106 On the other hand, Sunil Nath, Agni Nurjery, Mridul Phukan alias Samar Kakaty and some other leaders, at another meeting on June 23, 2001, took a very hard line against the ULFA, blaming it for the carnage at Moran, and declaring that "they would take revenge". This latter group also controls the Asom Jatiya Mahasabha (AJM), which had been created in a bid to project a ‘saner picture’ of the SULFA in the year 2000. The AJM was described as a non-political organisation. SULFA leader and former publicity secretary of the ULFA, Sunil Nath, had stated, "Most of us are members of the newly formed AJM, and our office bearers are debarred from contesting elections or taking active part in it."107 Shortly after the June 23 meeting, AJM Chairman Tirtha Bhuyan had also accused ULFA ‘commander-in-chief’ Paresh Baruah of trying to divide the SULFA cadres.108

These facts are far from conclusive, and the Gogoi government will have to be judged on performance over a much longer period of time. It must be clear, however, that despite the SULFA’s tenacity and virtual saturation of the system in the past, it is entirely within the means and existing powers of a committed government and political leadership to eliminate this menace, or minimally to de-fang the organization. The problem is the collusive system through which each political grouping in the State benefits from this armed quasi-legal force, and at the expense of the welfare and larger freedom of the people. It is this system that must be dismantled.

Democracy & the Transformation of Terror

It is essential to assess the SULFA phenomenon, and, indeed, the entire gamut of ‘surrender policies’ across the widening theatres of conflict in India, not in isolation, but in the context of the imperatives of constitutional governance and the threat that terrorism constitutes to all democratic institutions and civil society. This discourse must, moreover, take into account the increasing trend towards the criminalization of terrorist movements, and the progressive descent of militancy into brigandage.

At least some of the distortions in public policy arise out of the relatively rigid definitions that have been applied to the idea of terrorism. Terrorism, by and large, has been interpreted as "the systematic use of extreme violence and threats of violence in order to achieve public or political objectives,"109 or the "systematic and premeditated use or threatened use of violence for politically motivated purposes."110 There is, of course, a wide range of other definitions, and substantial variations of interpretation, but the notion of an integral link between terrorism and its ‘political objectives’ is a consistent feature of the literature. At one level, this is a useful theoretical construct, necessary to distinguish terrorism from other patterns of extreme violence – and especially from organized crime. Unfortunately, reality often fails to conform to useful theoretical constructs, which then become obstacles to a fuller appreciation of the complexities on the ground. Increasingly, terrorism has tended to mix in a multiplicity of motives – political, personal and purely criminal – in varying measure, but along an unbroken continuum, depending on transient and often entirely incidental constellations of events and forces. The result, one observer notes, is that:

Criminal motives, spread deep and wide throughout a terrorist group… transform the aims and motivations of its leaders. Terrorists and guerilla groups who view their cause as futile, might turn their formidable assets towards crime – all the while under a bogus political banner. Other groups might turn to organized crime if their raison d’etre evaporates in the face of negotiation or peace.111

It is interesting to note in this context that the ‘success’ of the second surrender scheme in Assam was substantially influenced by financial setbacks that had undermined ULFA’s status in the late 1990s, because "a huge fund of over Rs. 3 billion extorted by the outfit and kept in some Southeast Asian countries, had to be written off after the currencies in those countries crashed." A second defining factor was that "the cadres are disillusioned over the absentee-leaders, who are reportedly leading luxurious life-styles in foreign countries."112

To the extent, however, that the idea of a political motive remains integral to our notion of terrorism, we tend to undervalue patterns of violence that are, on all other counts, indistinguishable from, and that may, indeed, have their genesis in, and organizational continuity with, ‘political’ terrorism. Indeed, the notion of ‘political motives’ is, in itself, ambiguous – SULFA, for instance, certainly intervenes in the political process, has clear factional affiliations with political parties, and claims to pursue ‘social objectives’ through some of its activities. These political affiliations and goals may shift frequently, and may well be dismissed as opportunistic and lacking in any abiding commitment or value – but in India’s unstable and ideologically vacuous political milieu, every political party would be vulnerable to precisely such an assessment.

What we see in the case of SULFA, more precisely, is the limited rejection, not of political motives, but of an anti-regime agenda, and a separate assessment is required to determine whether this constitutes an adequate shift to escape the label of ‘terrorism’, and to be accepted within the ambit of the extremely flexible moral order of contemporary Indian politics. The difficulty, however, is resolved the moment terrorism is defined as a rational strategy to achieve both political and personal ends – or any mix of these – through the use of extreme violence and intimidation, even under the protection, or through the instrumentalities of the state, or within the scope of the ‘tolerance’ and complicity of the state’s agencies. A more realistic perspective would, consequently, accept the reality that "some terrorist groups commit criminal acts to support political operations, while others view profit-driven criminal acts as their end game."113 Within such a scheme of understanding, SULFA would be clearly identified as a terrorist organization to the extent that armed violence and intimidation remain central to its activities and survival.

Both the existence and character of SULFA, moreover, are directly sourced in the State’s policies, and particularly in the surrender packages and subsequent practices adopted by successive regimes towards the resulting organization. The result is not, as it may superficially be thought to be, simply an escalation in trends to crime and corruption in Assam, but goes to the very heart and possibility of democratic governance. The surrender schemes undermine the very basis of the rule of law, and the public confidence that there will be appropriate punishment for those who commit criminal offences. To the extent that they sever the fundamental psychological link between crime and punishment, they undermine public faith in constitutional democracy itself. To the extent, moreover, that public policy is seen to tolerate, and even endorse, SULFA’s brigandage, the very legitimacy of the government and of the prevailing political order is challenged. Present practices appear to confirm the belief that groups who use guns and bombs can have more influence in society and the political order than those who use peaceful methods. This is a dangerous precedent, and encourages others to use violence in the belief that it will further their personal, social or political cause as well.

Ethical considerations are of paramount importance in evaluating the role and legitimacy of the state, as they are in the evaluation of all political institutions and conduct. Within this context, the integrity and effectiveness of the criminal justice system – and the consistent and predictable relationship between crime and punishment – is critical. This is the foundation of public security and of the viability and authority of government, and to sacrifice it to mistaken settlements of expediency with armed groups is suicidal for the institutions of democracy.

Since the function of political authorities centers on protecting people and controlling the policy-making process, those authorities who fail in these tasks lose their legitimacy as authorities. The more failures, the more their power deflates.114

This ‘deflation’ of power is manifested throughout the ‘stable anarchy’ that prevails in Assam today, and translates itself equally into the abuse of institutional systems, the arbitrary exercise of authority, the breakdown of rule of law, and a pervasive insecurity of life and liberty. The relatively free activity of an extra-legal armed group such as the SULFA destroys the capacity of the state to protect its own institutions and processes, and "if a society cannot protect its very structure from armed internal attack, it must follow that no subordinate value can be protected."115

The arguments of political pragmatism and expediency that have shaped the government’s surrender policies demand urgent revaluation in terms, not of their proclaimed intent, but of the results that such policies have actually secured on the ground. The rhetoric of ‘peaceful resolution’ of conflict and the ‘rehabilitation’ of terrorists is being used to justify a system that goes beyond all morality. There can be no conceivable justification of the amoral compromises that the state has entered into with terrorists to secure their compliance – or complicity – within an extremely limited sphere of the interests of transient regimes. Within the present situation, we find that the some of the gravest threats that now exist come, not from elements clearly opposed to the state, who challenge the authority of the established order from without, through revolutionary actions, but from within the decaying system itself. As one commentator has written, in a different context, "We have now to contend less with the delinquent whose success and energy silence opposition than with the widespread incorporation of delinquent patterns of conduct into the actual structure and mechanism of society."116 The surrender policy in Assam has brought criminals and delinquents to the very center of the powers of the state, and this is intolerable within the context of a constitutional democracy. This situation must be reversed if any measure of democratic governance is to be restored. The present regime has both the power and the opportunity to secure such a restoration. What it will have to demonstrate, however, is whether it has the integrity and the will.


* Dr. Ajai Sahni is Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management and the South Asia Terrorism Portal; and Executive Editor, Faultlines: Writings on Conflict & Resolution.

Bibhu Prasad Routray is a Research Associate at the Institute for Conflict Management.

  1. John Locke, "Concerning Civil Government", Britannica Great Books, vol. 35, Britannica Publications, p. 37.
  2. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Boston, Ma: Harvard University Press, 1971, p. 3.
  3. Laurent B. Frantz, "The First Amendment in Balance", 71 Yale Law Journal, 1962, p. 1445.
  4. The problem is not unique to Assam or to the Northeast, but can be seen in every theatre of conflict in India. See K.P.S. Gill & Ajai Sahni, "The J&K ‘Peace Process’: Chasing the Chimera," Faultlines: Writings on Conflict & Resolution, New Delhi, vol. 8, April 2001, pp. 1-40.
  5. K.P.S. Gill, "Uncertain Wisdom of Policy Makers," Pioneer, New Delhi, December 9, 2000.
  6. Note on 100% Margin Money Scheme, Government of Assam, undated.
  7. Rehabilitation scheme brings change in ex-ULFA cadres' life, Note: One lakh = 100,000.
  8. Statistical Outline of India: 2000-2001, Mumbai: Tata Services Limited, p. 135.
  10. As of March 1999; Statistical Outline of India 2000-2001, p. 133.
  11. Scheme Of Margin Money To Surrendered Militants,
  12. Gill, "Uncertain Wisdom of Policy Makers".
  13. Ibid.
  14. "Rehabilitation scheme brings change in ex-ULFA cadres' life". BSF: Border Security Force; CRPF: Central Reserve Police Force.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Scheme for Surrender-cum-Rehabilitation of militants in the North East, Government of Assam, South Asia Terrorism Portal,
  17. "Insurgency a national problem: CM", The Assam Tribune, Guwahati, January 23, 2000.
  18. Ministry of Home Affairs release on "Scheme for Surrender-cum-Rehabilitation of Militants in the North East," See South Asia Terrorism Portal,
  19. NGOs may Fight shy of Aid,
  20. Scheme for Surrender-cum-Rehabilitation of militants in the North East, Clause 5, Note 3, "The surrenderees who have committed heinous crimes like murder, rape, abduction, etc., will be subject to the due process of law and surrender shall not imply amnesty from the crimes." Clause 5, Note 2, however, noted that "Minor crime cases against successfully rehabilitated surrenderees will be withdrawn." Scheme for Surrender-cum Rehabilitation in the North East.
  21. Scheme for Surrender-cum-Rehabilitation of militants in the North East, Clause 3: "Persons eligible under the Scheme will be initially lodged in a Rehabilitation Camp where they will be imparted training in a trade/vocation of their liking or befitting their aptitude.
  22. Manoj Anand, "Assam rebel surrender policy is flawed," Asian Age, New Delhi, November 18, 1999.
  23. Avirook Sen "Disarming Action," India Today, New Delhi, August 10, 1998,
  24. Annexure B of Report on Rehabilitation Projects, Department of Home, Government of Assam.
  25. Scheme for Surrender-cum-Rehabilitation of militants in the North East, Clause 5, Note 5, "The agency for rehabilitation may be a suitable NGO and/or the State Government. In case it is an NGO, it will run the Rehabilitation Camp with support from the Security Forces and the Government where required. (A suitable NGO, which has good credentials and willing to work in this sphere, will have to be identified and provided necessary support from the government. Necessary infrastructure for board, lodging and training of surrenderees shall be provided to the NGO at Government cost."
  26. Monimoy Dasgupta, "NGOs May Fight Shy of Aid,"
  27. "Statement of Cooperative/individual Societies formed by Surrendered Militants in Districts," Report on Rehabilitation Projects, Department of Home, Government of Assam..
  28. Abinash Bordoloi was killed on January 2, 2001, by suspected ULFA militants. See Assam Assessment, South Asia Terrorism Portal,
  29. "Rehabilitation scheme brings change in ex-ULFA cadres' life".
  30. "Rift over Package for Surrendered Ultras,"
  31. "Insurgency a national problem: CM".
  32. Ibid.
  33. "Assam Burning: The millennium year-hoping against hope",
  34. "SULFA Cadre held for Extortion", Sentinel, Guwahati, February 15, 2000.
  35. "Extortion bid from city PCOs", Sentinel, February 24, 2000.
  36. "SULFA Activists Held on Kidnapping Charges",
  37. "Dhekial, another SULFA in Stolen Car Racket", Sentinel, February 25, 2000.
  38. "SULFA man Nabbed", Assam Tribune, March 23, 2000.
  39. "SULFA man held", Assam Tribune, April 13, 2000.
  40. "SULFA man Arrested", Assam Tribune, May 15, 2000.
  41. "SULFA activists held for Extortion", Sentinel, June 30, 2000.
  42. "Four SULFA activists arrested", Sentinel, July 25, 2000.
  43. "Miscreants dismantle illegal check gate", Sentinel, October 21, 2000.
  44. "Former ULFA Man Held", Assam Tribune, September 16, 2000.
  45. "Abducted Trader Rescued, 3 SULFA Arrested", Sentinel, October 13, 2000.
  46. "SULFA Violence leaves one Dead, 8 Hurt", Assam Tribune, October 23, 2000.
  47. "Rescued", http://www/
  48. "SULFA man Held", Assam Tribune, November 7, 2000.
  49. "Traders’ Memo to DC on SULFA high-handedness", Sentinel, October 11, 2000.
  50. "Former Assam Militants now turn to Illegal Trade", Indian Express, New Delhi, May 21, 2000
  51. Ibid.
  52. "SULFA demand hits jute procurement too", Assam Tribune, September 21, 2000.
  53. "Rail Contracts Under Cloud", Telegraph, Kolkata, October 7, 2000.
  54. H.N. Das, Presentation on "Insurgency & Development" at the Seminar on "Addressing Conflicts in India’s Northeast," organized by the Institute for Conflict Management at the India International Centre, New Delhi, on June 25-27, 2001. His observations regarding the construction activity in Guwahati were based on a study, "Assam’s Economy: A Fresh Perspective," by the Federation of Industries and Commerce of the North East Region (FINER), Guwahati, April 2001.
  55. Facts relating to the Road Tax and Sales Tax Syndicates are based on personal conversations with senior officials in the Assam Government. However, recent news reports confirm the substance of the allegations, though estimates of the sums involved may vary from source to source, and tend to be larger in the open source information. See, "Rs. 50 Lakh per Month from Road Tax",; "City Toll Gates: Key to Earning Crores of Rupees,"; "How SULFA became Crorepati,"
  56. "Crore Rupee Rice Scam Rocks FCI,"
  57. Rehabilitation scheme brings change in ex-ULFA cadres' life.
  58. Assam Government to disarm surrendered rebels,
  59. Cracking Down on SULFA, Editorial, Sentinel, January 9, 2001.
  60. "SULFA men Unleash Terror in Fancy Bazar", Assam Tribune, March 4, 2001.
  61. 'Assam cops & SULFA raid Naga village, abduct seven headmen,'
  62. "Police Fails to Withdraw PSOs from SULFA men", Assam Tribune, January 19, 2001.
  63. Assam Government to disarm surrendered rebels.
  64. Assam Government to disarm surrendered rebels.
  65. Quoted in Avirook Sen, Assam: Jungle Justice,
  66. "MHA identifies NGOs with terrorist links in North East", South Asia Terrorism Portal,
  67. CBI To Wrap Up Parag Das Case In June,
  68. Assam Gives up Move to Disarm SULFA Militants,
  69. SULFA leader, 2 security guards killed in ULFA attack,
  70. "Dhekial, another SULFA in stolen car racket",
  71. Assam Gives up Move to Disarm SULFA Militants.
  72. For details see Avirook Sen, "Assam: Jungle Justice".
  73. 20 perish in fratricidal killings in Assam, ULFA-SULFA battle reaches a dangerous proportion,,%2001/oh9.htm
  74. For reference to such nexus refer to ‘ SULFA, the King maker, might break up onto two-Secret killings might restart’, Also see "AGP plan to use SULFA in polls: APCC to seek EC’s intervention", Assam Tribune, February 24, 2001, Nitin Gogoi, "SULFA not part of any political party",
  75. 20 perish in fratricidal killings in Assam, ULFA-SULFA battle reaches a dangerous proportion.
  76. "Killings of innocents arouse people's ire",
  77. Surrendered Insurgents Killed by Former Colleagues,
  78. "ULFA-SULFA battle reaches a dangerous proportion". Also see "Killings trigger anti-Sulfa wave," Hindustan Times, January 7, 2001,,
  79. Assam Government under Pressure to Disarm SULFA.
  80. Assam Police Divided over disarming SULFA,
  81. Assam Police Denies Links with SULFA members,
  82. Ex-Militants Accuse Assam of Blackmail,
  83. Surrendered Rebels bring no Information: Army,
  84. Ibid.
  85. Assam Government to disarm surrendered rebels.
  86. Lt. Gen. S.K. Pillai, "Three Matryoshkas: Ethnicity, Autonomy & Governance," paper presented at a seminar on "Addressing Conflicts in India’s Northeast," organized by the Institute for Conflict Management at India International Centre, New Delhi, on June 25-27, 2001.
  87. "SULFA activists seeking tickets for Assembly polls," Assam Live,
  88. For a detailed assessment of overground linkages of the terrorist movement in the State, see Jaideep Saikia, "Allies in the Closet: Over-ground Linkages and Terrorism in Assam," Faultlines: Writings on Conflict & Resolution, New Delhi, vol. 8, April 2001, pp. 105-125.
  89. Youth Congress Leader Picked up, interrogated,
  90. ‘SULFA not part of any political party’.
  91. ‘SULFA not part of any political party’.
  92. SULFA Activists seeking Tickets for Assembly Polls, January 18, 2001, http://www/
  93. CPI-ML using Former Militants, says ASDC(H),
  94. ‘AGP plan’ to use SULFA in Polls: APCC to Seek EC’s Intervention, Assam Tribune, February 24, 2001.
  95. BJP Fears Use of SULFA in Polls, Assam Tribune, December 6, 2000.
  96. "Daunting Task for Gogoi," Chandigarh: The Tribune, May 18, 2001.
  97. "Gogoi to deal firmly with insurgency," Hindu, May 30, 2001.
  98. Zarir Hussain, "Gogoi wants to solve insurgency politically,"
  99. "Be a more pro-active, positive and vibrant force," Sentinel, May 31, 2001.
  100. "SULFA threats? Call control room," May 26, 2001,,.
  101. "Rs. 50 Lakh per month from Road Tax,"
  102. "SULFA’s den Usha Court in deep trouble,"
  103. "Moran killings: ULFA-NSCN hand suspected," Assam Tribune, June 23, 2001.
  104. "Police Shielding Moran Killers: Konwar," Sentinel, July 1, 2001.
  105. "SULFA leaders divided over response,"
  106. Ibid.
  107. ‘SULFA not part of any political party’.
  108. "ULFA trying to divide former ultras: AJM," Assam Tribune, June 25, 2001.
  109. W.T. Mallison and S.V. Mallison, "The Concept of Public Purpose Terror in International Law: Doctrines and Sanctions to Reduce the Destruction of Human and Material Values," in M. Cherif Bassiouni, ed., International Terrorism and Political Crimes, Springfield, Illinois: Thomas, 1975, p. 67.
  110. Brian A. Jackson, "Technology Acquisition by Terrorist Groups: Threat Assessment Informed by Lessons from Private Sector Technology Adoption," Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, London, vol. 24, no.3, May-June 2001, p. 183.
  111. Chris Dishman, "Terrorism, Crime and Transformation," Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, London, vol. 24, no.1, January-February 2001, p. 56.
  112. "ULFA surrender in Tezpur to commence today," Assam Online, vol. 3, no. 51, July 25, 1998,
  113. Dishman, "Terrorism, Crime and Transformation," p. 43
  114. N.O. Berry, 'Theories on the Efficacy of Terrorism', in Paul Wilkinson and A.M. Stewart eds., Contemporary Research On Terrorism, Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1987, p. 297.
  115. Justice Vinson, Dennis vs. United States, 341 US 508, 1951.
  116. Alex Comfort, Authority and Delinquency: A Study in the Psychology of Power, London: Sphere Books, 1970, p. 76.





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