Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The story behind Arabinda’s arrest in Bangladesh

Arabinda Rajkhowa, the chairman of the ULFA
Photo: Anupam Nath/AP

PABITRA GOGOI

IT WAS a scene that seemed to have taken right out of a silver screen thriller, when the man who headed India’s Most Wanted list had to be on the run after being abandoned and betrayed by the country that had given him refuge.

Knowing that he was being cornered by the Bangladesh security forces, the man then tried to escape on the night of December 1, 2009, only to be caught by the country’s intelligence agents.
The protagonist here is none other than Arabinda Rajkhowa, the chairman of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), who narrated the story of his escape and eventual capture to his family members after being released from jail.

According to family sources, Rajkhowa was travelling with his daughter and a boy named Raja from Chittagong to Cox Bazar, when around 10 pm, their bus was intercepted by security personnel in a dense forest area. One of the officers took him out of the bus and asked him to put his hands up in open air near a big tree. It was pitch darkness.

When the security officer asked his name, Rajkhowa uttered the name he had assumed in Bangladesh. But the officer insisted he reveal his real name. When Rajkhowa said it was indeed the real name, the security officer then pulled Rajkhowa’s photograph out of his own pocket and said, “Is this not you, Arabinda Rajkhowa, the ULFA chairman?”

Rajkhowa realised he had been caught and there would be no way out. When the security personnel took him to another vehicle, Rajkhowa told them that his daughter and son (though Raja is not his son) were also in the bus, the personnel then took them along as well.

They were then taken to a camp where he noticed a shooting range. It was twilight, around 4 am. He thought he would be shot dead.

After some time, a black hood was put on his head and he was taken to a cell. When he was put in chains against a wall, he requested the security personnel not to kill him and not to hand him over to India. The ULFA chairman told his captors that people of Assam had played an important role in the formation of Bangladesh. Rajkhowa then tried to remind them of Mukti Bahini, the group instrumental in the formation of Bangladesh, the erstwhile East Pakistan, and the role Assamese people had played in the armed uprising.

All these pleadings fell on deaf ears, though. The securitymen detained them for two days before handing them over to the Assam Police at Dawki on December 4, 2009, along with ULFA deputy commander-in-chief Raju Barua, Rajkhowa’s wife, daughter, son and the boy called Raja.

Rajkhowa, however, does not believe that anybody from his outfit betrayed him and played a role in his capture. He is aware that the Bangladeshi intelligence is now very advanced. Not merely the intelligence, the Bangladesh Government is now upgrading all other departments to extract a higher level of excellence. They also send top officers of every department to the US for higher training.

The ULFA chairman knew that the outfit started losing ground in Bangladesh as soon as Sheikh Hasina came to power. The Sheikh Hasina government thought that the ULFA had involvement in some violence taking place in Dhaka.

Rajkhowa now believes that everything can be settled with cooperation of the people of Assam and said the outfit will never go against the peoples’ opinion in order to solve Assam’s biggest problem. #

First published in Assam Tribune, Guwahati, January 3, 2011


Pabitra Gogoi is Guwahati, Assam based journalist