With several top United Liberation Front of Asom leaders deported to India from Bangladesh, the Centre is treading cautiously on holding deliberations with the outlawed outfit as it does not want to repeat the 1992 experience when five of the militant leaders, released for talks, used the opportunity to go underground and regroup.
Though Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has favoured safe passage to the group's leaders if they came for talks and Home Minister P Chidambaram showed willingness for dialogue with ULFA if the group abjures violence, it was not clear whether any such peace process will be initiated immediately.
Home Ministry officials said they will have to work out modalities for any future talks but ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, who surrendered on Friday, will first have to declare publicly that he would give up the demand for 'sovereignty'. But despite both sides showing willingness for talks, officials in the Home Ministry are not willing to jump the gun as previous attempts of talks during former prime minister P V Narsimha Rao's tenure ended up in an embarrassment to the intelligence agencies, official sources said.
"We are looking at all aspects before anything concrete can be declared. We do not want to take any chances," a source said. In 1992, attempts to bring ULFA leadership to the table failed as the leaders, including general secretary Anup Chetia, who were released from jail for talks took the opportunity to go underground and later fled to Bangladesh where they set up camps.
In 2005, the ULFA nominated a 11-member team called People's Consultative Group headed by Jnanpith-winning author Indira Goswami, which held three rounds of talks with National Security Adviser M K Narayanan in an attempt to bring lasting peace to Assam. However, that did not go anywhere as no ULFA leader was involved in the peace process despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's announcement that he was willing to discuss "all issues bothering" Assam, but within the framework of the Constitution.
ULFA is now considered a weak force as almost its entire top leadership is in jail and not in a position to bargain with the government, sources said. And if at all any dialogue starts, the ULFA cadres have to abjure violence and the group has to give up its demand of sovereignty.
"We also want to ensure that the ULFA does not use the opportunity of dialogue to strengthen the organisation as they did in the past," a source said. Besides, different cases were registered against all ULFA leaders and all of them will first have to face the court. And in case the government wants them to participate in any possible future talks, it first has to take permission from the appropriate court, the source said.
However, it is not clear whether any such dialogue with ULFA would be fruitful as the outfit's military wing chief Paresh Baruah is still at large and not interested in any talks.