Parag Das and the Search for Assamese Identity

   In contemporary history of Assam, Parag Das is the most important thinker and activist who provided the ideological foundation for independent Assam. Parag Das provided a distinct ideological character to ULFA—without him, the understanding of the organisation would remain incomplete. Through ULFA, he wanted to actualise his dream of an independent Assam. In contemporary times, Parag Das is perhaps the most ardent critic of Delhibaad (Delhiism). It was Parag Das who, by his persuasive analysis in Boodhbar (a weekly Assamese paper which was most active in the early 1990s) and books like Swadhinotar Prastab (Proposal for Independence), Swadhin Asomor Arthanity (Economy of independent Assam), Rastradruhir Dinlipi (Diary of a State Rebel), Mok Swadhinota Lage (I Need Independence), Nisiddha Kolom aru Anyanna (Banned writings and others) and Sanglot Phenla (a novel on the life of the rebels), provided ideological legitimacy of ULFA. Journalists like Ajit Bhuyan, Haidor Hussain and lawyers like Niloy Dutta, Nekibur Zaman were some of the notable personalities whose support to ULFA in its initial period was crucial for its growth and popularity in the Assamese society.

By no means can the ideology of Parag Das be considered as the product of a chronic rebel who wanted to liberate Assam since his school– college days. He was one of the most brilliant students of his time. Parag stood 4th in Assam in the High School Leaving Certificate (HSLC) (+10) examination, he also secured 4th position in the Higher Secondary Examination in science stream from prestigious Cotton College. He graduated with a first class from the country’s most prestigious college, St. Stephens’ College, Delhi, and M. Sc. from Delhi School of Economics. Interestingly, Parag appeared thrice in the interview of Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) civil service examinations—had he been successful in getting Indian Administrative Services (IAS) or Indian Police Services (IPS), Assam’s destiny with insurgency would have substantially changed. He worked as the general manager in Guwahati Stock Exchange only to resign in 1995 to join as the executive editor of Asomiya Pratidin—arguably the largest circulated daily in Assam, and he held this position till he was killed by the secret killers on 17 May 1996. He was arrested several times under the National Security Act (NSA) in 1992 and under Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) in 1993. His book Swadhinotar Prastab was banned by the government. He is considered to be one of the most ardent advocates of freedom of speech and was the leader of Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS)— the pioneer human rights organisation of the state with allegedly a proULFA stand. Parag’s insistence on the Right to Secession started more specifically from 1990 after he had started a new weekly called Boodhbar and a magazine called Aagan.

Parag’s writings do not represent a very systematic scheme for proposed Assamese independence—his writings are mostly scattered in the weekly paper Boodhbar which he edited since 1989. There are a few other writings which we shall focus on to understand a person who undoubtedly was the greatest champion of independent Assam in the postIndependence history from 1990 till his death in 1996. Parag’s writings can be classified into several categories such as right to self-determination and right to secession, international law and right to self-determination, internal colonialism and resource control, ULFA as the custodian of an independent Assam, limitations of ULFA activists, the Congress rulers as the lackey of Indian imperialism, human rights violation by the security forces and so on.

ULFA for Das is different from other organisations of the state. They had a different thought process—their ideology was different from other ultra nationalistic Assamese organisations. ULFA was perhaps the only organisation in the state that spoke for the ‘people of Assam’ rather than the Assamese people—which is yet to be defined to the satisfaction of all communities. Organisations like AASU and regional political parties like AGP are criticised for their exclusive concerns with the Assamesespeaking people—in fact, Assam Accord is considered by many smaller nationalities of Assam as a constitutional protective mechanism for the Assamese people. ULFA tried to broaden the Assamese base by incorporating members from all communities and had tried to espouse the identity concerns of these communities.

Parag argued that there are three essential issues that make ULFA different from violent and non-violent ethnic organisations of the region:

1. ULFA’s cause was for the people of Assam rather than for a few linguistic groups of the state. ULFA represents, as its name implies, not only the ‘Assamese nation’ but also the entire ‘independent minded struggling peoples, irrespective of different race-tribecaste-religion and nationality of Assam’. 2. According to Parag Das, the ideologue of the organisation:

“In spite of many weaknesses of ULFA, we are providing support through constructive criticism because they could herald a new political thought process in Assam … for the first time in Assam’s history they were successful in providing a convincing analysis for identifying the true enemy of Assam.”

3. It is ULFA that could truly analyse the character of the Indian State. ULFA identified Delhi as the main enemy of the people of Assam. It could highlight the magnitude of exploitation carried out by the multinational agencies at the behest of Centre and spoke against the centralised administrative system of Delhi.

He said that most of the previous movements in Assam were driven by emotions—two movements were launched only on the basis of language. A systematic attempt was made to divide between the Bengaliand Assamese-speaking people. Later on, the toiling agricultural masses of the Char areas were identified as the enemy of Assam. A six-year-long anti-foreigner movement was launched to drive out these people who constitute the backbone of our agricultural economy. According to Das, ULFA provided a welcome break from such a thought process of the ultra-nationalistic movements.

An excerpt from Nani Gopal Mahanta’s Confronting the State: ULFA’s Quest for Sovereignty.

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