Assam media changes its attitude to Ulfa

IN Regional Media | 03/09/2004
After the Independence Day blasts which killed civilians, the press in Assam turns against the Ulfa.
Nava Thakuria

The United Liberation Front  of Assam (Ulfa)  is losing ground. And it has lost its influence in the media particularly. The armed outfit was once recognized as a lucrative news source. It was almost a matter of pride for Guwahati-based journalists to receive a phone call from a top Ulfa leader or a press release from the outfit’s publicity member. There was a time, when each and every press release of Ulfa received enough space in the front page of the daily newspapers.

The killing of each Ulfa member was reported as the an example of the oppression by New Delhi. Many Guwahati based editor-journalists would also  visit the dead bodies of Ulfa cadres or attend their ‘Adyashradha’ (last ritual) organized in different parts of the state. The headline was supposed to carry the term ‘revolutionary cadre’ being  killed by the agency of Indian government. But in recent days the Guwahati media has started behaving differently with the  Ulfa.  Now if a cadre of the banned outfit is killed, it gets space, but with toned down language.

After the Dhemaji blast on August 15, that killed 13 women and children during the Independence Day celebration all the dailies of Assam (Guwahati witnesses 20 dailies published from the city)  reported the incident  as the handiworks of ‘terrorists’ or ‘insurgents’, and no way by revolutionaries. The language of the editorials on the fateful incident was harsh. The message of the editorials were loud and clear: ‘enough is enough, stop terrorism’. The post Dhemaji blast period has witnessed tremendous anger and outrage  against Ulfa thoroughout Assam. The armed group tried to prevent the people from  protesting by spreading horror thorough as many as nine blasts that killed at least 15 people and wounded over 40 others.

Then suddenly the outfit reiterated its demand for "Ganabhot" or plebiscite on the sovereignty of Assam.  In a very long e-mail message written in Assamese with dateline of  August 29, the Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa claimed that they had possesses all relevant argument and documents  for demanding a  "Ganabhot", whether the people of Assam want independence or  to remain with India. The political chief of the outfit Mr Rajkhowa, while criticizing the government of India for preventing a plebiscite in the region, had dared the Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi to organize the plebiscite on  sovereignty. "The government is scared of the "Ganabhot" and hence they are preventing any initiatives for  the plebiscite," he said in the release.

The release contained a few ruthless lines against a senior journalist and also the editor of Dainik Asom, a prestigious publication which is the and oldest Assamese daily from Guwahati. Ulfa accused him of playing the Hindu card like the Bharatiya Janata Party. The readers of Assam may remember a very strong editorial with the  byline of D.N. Chakrabarty, published on the front page of the  daily following the Dhemaji incident, where  Mr. Chakrabarty had termed the attack on civilian by Ulfa as crueler than even the days of Burmese aggression on Assam in the eighteenth century.

The morning dailies from Guwahati carried the news item next day, but with a very toned down approach. The news item received almost insignificant space in dailies, where it was also edited drastically. The dailies preferred to edit the portion, where Ulfa came down heavily on the editor for his ‘biased role’ in social leadership. A new and professional approach to Ulfa by the media in Assam which is a refreshing change.

The media has obviously not changed its attitude only after a single massacre. The Dhemaji blast was significant as Ulfa killed innocent children and women and later owned up the responsibility. The Ulfa chairman even tried to justify their stand and in a press release he put the responsibility for the killings on the administration. After prolonged mass  protests  thorough out the state, the military chief of Ulfa, Paresh Baruah tried in vain to deny their involvement in the incident. But nobody bought his assertion. 


Nava Thakuria is a Guwahati-based journalist and office bearer of the Guwahati Press Club. Contact:
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