Guwahati: The Assam government and the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) are treading cautiously but cleverly in paving the way for formal peace talks to end more than three decades of insurgency in the state.
Soon after the arrest of top ULFA leaders in Bangladesh last year, discussions on possible peace talks gathered momentum. The jailed leaders have hinted at a negotiated settlement.
Now decks are being gradually cleared for the release of deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah, finance secretary Chitrabon Hazarika and Bhimkanta Buragohain who filed bail petitions before the court in the past few days.
"The process of getting bail will be easier if the government prosecutor does not object to the petitions when the cases come up for hearing," Bijon Mahajan, legal counsel for the ULFA leaders, said.
Barring ULFA`s elusive commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah, the entire top brass of the outfit is in jail.
The imprisoned leaders also include chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, self-styled foreign secretary Sasha Choudhury and cultural secretary Pranati Deka.
ULFA vice chairman Pradip Gogoi and publicity chief Mithinga Daimary are out on bail and engaged in drumming up public support for peace talks.
And going by past instances when the government lawyer did not object to Gogoi and Daimary`s bail petitions, there are indications that the government too wants the ULFA leaders to get bail and start talking.
"We are ready to walk the extra mile and facilitate peace talks with the ULFA leadership," Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told IANS without elaborating.
The jailed leaders are thinking on similar lines.
"We are ready for talks if such negotiations are held in a conducive atmosphere and not with handcuffs on," the ULFA chairman said recently.
The newly-appointed central government peace interlocutor P.C. Haldar held several rounds of preliminary meetings with the ULFA leadership at the Guwahati Central Jail - to work out modalities for the talks.
"All indications are positive," Haldar has said.
Indications are that the government and the jailed ULFA leaders were trying to proceed cautiously - filing bail petitions in phases and coming out of jail being one of the strategies being worked out.
"The strategy is to file bail petitions in phases and get all the ULFA leaders out of jail so that there is legitimacy when peace talks begins," an Assam police official said.
Another interesting twist to the tale is that more and more middle and senior level commanders of the outlawed group have surrendered in recent weeks or waiting to come over ground to join the peace process.
"About 30 ULFA leaders have surrendered in the past few weeks and we are expecting more. There is growing frustration among the rank and file, and everybody wants to join the peace process," the police official said.