A press release issued by the independent faction of ULFA (ULFA-I), led by Paresh Baruah, said that the spies, Sanjib Sarma and Dhanjit Das, were sent by a section of Army and police officers with the aim of motivating other functionaries in the camp to surrender before the government.
Sarma’s confession was recorded on camera and mailed to media houses before they were put before the firing squad. The release also named 11 other functionaries in the camp who are believed to be part of the spy squad sent from Assam. Their fate remains unknown, although there are rumours that they had also been shot.
Senior police officers have denied sending spies to the ULFA camp. However, previously, an extreme step such as capital punishment had been meted out in camps only after ample evidence.
It may be too early to arrive at conclusions on this episode, but the fact remains that the government has been jittery over the sudden spurt in ULFA’s recruitments over the past year. In the past, there had been many instances when both the Army and police sent spies to ULFA camps. While most of them were identified and executed, there have been cases of success, too, but they have remained under wraps.
Why Send Spies To Rebel Camps?
Positioning spies in enemy camps has been a common practice everywhere since time immemorial. Spies sent by security forces to camps belonging to rebel groups in the Northeast can be placed in various categories, which could be similar to the phenomenon in other regions facing insurgency and terrorism.
According to some ULFA leaders, police have succeeded in stationing more spies than the Army as these operations cannot be accomplished in a brief span. Army officers are always focused on short-term goals as they are deputed to serve in a zone only for a few years.
Spies could be new recruits or captured and surrendered functionaries who are brainwashed to make a re-entry into the camp with a specific mandate. They are offered jobs and cash rewards in lieu of completing operations. Their tasks could range from simply gathering information to assassination attempts on leaders.
Why Sending Spies to ULFA Is So Easy
It has been easier for security agencies to undertake such covert operations in ULFA camps for the simple reason that there are hardly any background checks involved in the outfit’s recruitment. The only norm followed is denying entry to anybody below the age of 15 years. There have been cases when young teenagers were compelled to return home from camps in Bhutan.
The ULFA’s tryst with spies began as early as 1989 at the general headquarters in Lakhipathar in Dibrugarh. At least two people were identified and executed ahead of Operation Bajrang, which began on 28 November 1990, to flush out the rebels.
Their bodies were believed to be among the corpses dug out from the camp three weeks after the start of the operation. Years later, in another episode, a spy had almost managed to reach the ULFA chief of staff Paresh Baruah in Dhaka, when he realised the danger involved and decided to abandon the operation.
The Case of John Barua
On 9 May, inews-Northeast flashed an interview of a surrendered ULFA functionary, John Barua, who is well-known in the outfit. He is alleged to have made an assassination bid on ULFA chief of staff Paresh Baruah at the Satcherri camp in Bangladesh in 2001.
In an interview with this correspondent, Baruah said that John was tasked by the Special Branch of Assam Police with executing the operation. He claimed that John missed the target owing to his lack of confidence in operating the AK-81 assault rifle, which was new with additional features and had been recently obtained by ULFA.
Subsequently, John escaped from the camp at night and made a dash to the border in Tripura, from where he landed in Guwahati.
In the interview with inews-Northeast, John denied that he had been assigned the task of assassinating Baruah by the Special Branch. But he accepted that he had escaped from the camp and was assisted by a functionary of the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), which was a rebel outfit from Tripura in close proximity to the ULFA camp. He added that he had also been detained by the Border Security Force (BSF) while crossing the border.
Often, Senior Officials Are Also Involved
ULFA has also notched up a few successes in the game of spies that started within years of the outfit becoming active in the early 1980s. The most well-known episode was during Operation Bajrang, when the outfit was kept informed by Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) ministers and senior government officials about the Centre’s plans to dismantle camps ban the outfit. It was precisely for this reason that the Army did not take the police into confidence during the operation, which was also a major reason for the failure of the operation.
In the 1990s, after the ULFA regrouped with the establishment of new camps, there was a senior officer at the police headquarters who would regularly brief a leader of the outfit about important decisions. It was due to the information provided by the officer that a mole planted by another senior officer at one of the camps in Bhutan was identified.
There was another senior IPS officer in Assam Police who had reportedly developed intimate links with a few ULFA leaders. Incidentally, this officer was all set to serve a stint in the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) wing, when it was cancelled at the eleventh hour. There was suspicion among a section of officers that he would pass sensitive information to the outfit’s leaders.
These officers apart, there were many at the lower echelons in the districts and security agencies who would regularly pass on information to the ULFA. This continues even today, albeit on a lesser scale.
(Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior journalist in Guwahati. Views expressed are personal)