'Paresh Baruah not averse to returning to India': ULFA pro-talks leader

Anup Chetia, who co-founded ULFA, said Baruah wants to discuss Assam's sovereignty

37-Anup-Chetia Anup Chetia | Salil Bera

Anup Chetia was in a catch-22 situation when his daughter fell in love with a Bangladeshi national. As an ULFA leader, he was fiercely against illegal migration from Bangladesh into India after the 1971 war. He was in a Dhaka jail at the time for a slew of crimes, including entering the country on a fake passport and illegal possession of foreign currency. In 2015, he was handed over to India, where he was wanted on charges of murder and extortion. He was released the same year and became a pro-talks leader within ULFA. Last October, his daughter got married to the same man in Australia; several ULFA leaders (pro- and anti-talks) attended the reception in Assam’s Tinsukia, including second-in-command Drishti Rajkhowa. The couple is settled in Australia, but there is a catch. In an interview with THE WEEK, Chetia explains the conditions to the alliance and also talks about ULFA’s future. Excerpts:

Q You were in a Dhaka jail for 18 years before you returned to India in 2015 for peace talks. Were you relieved?

Bangladesh followed the colonial prison system. There was extreme heat and no fan. We could not step out of the cell, which was eight feet by twelve feet. The food was bad and there was no place to sleep. The capacity of Dhaka jail those days was around 2,600, but the actual number of inmates was more than 14,000. We slept side by side and the choice was between going to the toilet and losing a place to sleep. The stench was unbearable. I have heard it is better now.

Q Why did Indian agencies bring you back?

Though they knew Paresh Baruah and Arabinda Rajkhowa were also hiding in Bangladesh, I was the target. This is because I conceptualised ULFA’s international relations and made it internationally known. I am the only ULFA leader who has visited 24 countries. Today, ULFA has a drawback as it does not have a strong leader for its international operations.

Q Where did you train after joining ULFA?

I underwent weapons training in Afghanistan in 1991. We were a batch of 14 and we travelled from Bangladesh to Karachi, onward to Peshawar and beyond in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas. We were trained by Pakistani officials, alongside Afghan militants.

Q Your daughter recently got married. How many people went for the wedding from India?

I travelled with my wife and another friend, who does not belong to ULFA. My daughter plans to stay in Australia with her husband, who has permanent residency there. His family plans to leave Bangladesh and settle in Australia.

Q You were in jail when your daughter first met her future husband. Did you resist the alliance?

We accepted her choice, but we have put certain conditions. First, I told her she would not stay in Bangladesh; they could stay in India or Australia. It was my daughter’s decision to not surrender her Indian citizenship. We are clear that we do not want her to lose our identity.

Q Are you in contact with Paresh Baruah?

He congratulated me on my daughter’s wedding. I have maintained that Paresh is not averse to returning to India. He is willing to join the talks provided the issue of sovereignty is discussed. The peace talks are over and we have submitted our proposal to the government. The ball is in their court.

Q How are your relations with Paresh Baruah and his family?

Paresh’s father, a farmer, was upset with me for bringing his son into ULFA when he was working for the railways in the Tinsukia division. In a way I feel responsible for what has happened.