Demow (Assam): The outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom`s (ULFA) demand for sovereignty or independence - now the major stumbling block for opening peace talks with the government - was not on its agenda when the outfit was formed 30 years ago in Assam.
"When we formed the ULFA, sovereignty was not in our scheme of things, nor did we ever contemplate on this demand," said Bhupen Borgohain, one of the founder-members of the ULFA.
"We met and formed the ULFA with the avowed objective of seeking economic independence or economic liberation as we believed the natural resources of Assam were being exploited by the central government," 63-year-old Borgohain said in an interview.
Borgohain and six others met at the ramparts of the historic Rang Ghar, an amphitheatre of the Ahom Royalty in the eastern town of Sivasagar, and gave birth to the ULFA on April 7, 1979.
"The demand for sovereignty or independence was a late addition to the ULFA`s objectives when people like Arabinda Rajkhowa (now jailed and ULFA`s present chairman) joined the outfit," said Borgohain, now a village schoolmaster in Demow in Sivasagar district.
Today, sovereignty has become the core issue for the ULFA and the rebel leadership is adamant. Borgohain is no longer with the ULFA, having resigned from the outfit sometime in 1983 after he was arrested.
"I realised there was no point in continuing with the ULFA as police got all my details and finger prints and so I decided to leave the organisation and lead a normal life," he said.
Interestingly, just one of the seven people who actually formed the ULFA is still an active member of the outfit - jailed vice chairman Pradeep Gogoi.
"Seven of us met at the Rang Ghar April 7, 1979 - I was there, Buddheswar Gogoi, the first chairman who is now no more, present ULFA vice chairman Pradeep Gogoi, Suren Dihingia, and Someswar Gogoi (now dead). Two more were present, but I would not like to name them as both parted ways after the very first meeting itself," Borgohain said.
Big names like chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and the elusive commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah were late entrants.
"Both Rajkhowa and Paresh Baruah joined the ULFA a couple of years after it was formed," Borgohain said.
"We never formed the outfit to wage an armed struggle but wanted economic liberation by way of drumming up public opinion and mass movement," Borgohain said.
"I know Paresh Baruah as a hardliner as he in the initial years told us not to ever believe in the Indian government and never to sit for talks. So I believe Paresh Baruah would never ever come for talks," Borgohain said.
In the last two decades, around 10,000 people have died in the insurgency in Assam.