Queat for Peace

She condemns the violence attributed to the outfit, but says that their sufferings are genuine. Goswami tells Mahendra Ved that their demand for "sovereignty" for Assam is impractical and that they should settle for autonomy.

You met the prime minister with an "appeal" that is political. Do you agree with the ULFA's cause?

I am a writer who has done nothing but write all my life. I am not a politician and will never join politics, although I have had many offers. I do not think I will be accepted as a politician by people who have a certain image of me. But I am non-political, not apolitical. A writer must understand politics to be able to evolve. My entire effort to meet the PM is to bring peace to Assam. I have not met any of the top ULFA leaders, only talked to some of them on phone.

But insurgency is a recurring theme in your writings.

Yes, many characters in my novels are concerned with insurgency — as heroes, as villains, or as mere victims of circumstances. My younger brother Manabendra Sarma was killed by insurgents. I was bitter about it for long, but then got over it. I visited the village homes of Paresh Barua and Anup Chetia on way to a literary conference some years ago. Barua's mother wept and urged that I bring her son back. She lost the younger son to terrorism and has not met Paresh for 25 years. I asked Rajkhowa's 101-year-old father, a freedom fighter: Do you admire your son? He said the demands were genuine. "But I do not want an independent Assam. I want him to give up the gun and let peace return."

Have you had a brush with insurgents? Is talking to Barua telephoning from a location you do not know part of a writer's brush with reality?

Well, I have not bothered to know where he calls from. Since I want to be of some help, and leave it at that. I once did accompany insurgents to their camps and saw for myself how they live and work, while being chased by the army and the police. Although conscious that I am a known name and face, I allowed myself into that situation, more out of empathy than a sense of adventure. Or, may be, a bit of both. They were momentous few hours in the middle of the night. They could have done anything to me. Maybe, take me a hostage. But I knew they respected me and would do nothing to harm me. They showed me that they also did some good work, like running small schools and nursing the sick while being on the run. A year later, one of them wrote to me from jail, his foot amputated, saying that he was the sole survivor from that group and all the others had been killed. I have drawn from these lives I have studied. My novel that got me the Sahitya Akademi award, Mamore Dhada Torwal (Rusted Sword), is about these fighters. But as I said, I do not necessarily share their acts of violence and their belief in independence.

Why? Is an independent Assam unviable?

How can you think of an independent Assam. As a writer, I would say that it is a beautiful dream. But as a person, I know it will never materialise. There are too many ethnic differences. There are the borders with China, Bangladesh and Myanmar. The US too has a role in the region. You may go on fighting for year, but there will be no independence; Assam will become a skeleton. It is not like Bhutan or Sikkim, it is rich in natural resources, the wood, tea and oil that are coveted by too many. Hence, I am all for greater autonomy, not independence. See the neglect. See the state of Majuli, the world's largest island on a river. I think money is not a problem, the poli-tical and economic management is. This has led to corruption. Don't forget, the Assam I was born in is what is much of the north-east today. I would like that Assam of my childhood to be peaceful and prosperous.

So you do not agree with the ULFA's demand for "sovereignty".

I have not pondered over it. It is a French word with so many different meanings. I am not sitting on value judgment. I see insurgency and the misery it has caused and want that to end. Hence I met the prime minister. I was moved by his response and I believe in him. I do not think any harm will be done by talking on the subject. I told Barua of the apprehensions about this. But he is stubborn. Maybe, he needs this to keep his flock together.

Do you think they will come for talks?

He (Barua) has told me that they are coming. Now it is up to the government. Once letter goes from the government, they will come. They are laying no pre-conditions. You must have seen that Barua is no longer talking of a meeting in a third country and under the UN supervision. He is even willing to go to Guwahati for talks. He is not even insisting on talking to the prime minister. Once they meet, my job is over. Unless all of them ask me to act further, I shall wait and watch and hope for the best.

(Source: Times of India)