Social media is helping ULFA expand reach: Top Assam officer

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Since September 1, the police say, at least 11 people, from Tinsukia and Udalguri districts, have joined the outfit, and another 11 have surrendered. (Representational Image)

Data does not reflect any “sudden spurt” in recruitment by the United Liberation Front of Assam (Independent) but social media is helping the militant outfit reach people in a much wider way, head of Assam Police’s Special Branch, Pallab Bhattacharyya, has told The Indian Express.

“I don’t think there is a sudden spurt in recruitment. Recruitment haws going on in the past, too – just that it was taking place silently and was not reflected through social media and sections of the mainstream media as it is now,” Special D-G Bhattacharyya said.

The outlawed ULFA(I) has of late hit the headlines for multiple reasons — it was suspected in the killing of five Bengali-speaking farmers in Tinsukia district in November; a software engineer named Abhijeet Gogoi and a local student leader, Pankaj Pratim Dutta, joined the outfit, and Bhattacharyya himself told the media that the opposition in the state to the proposal to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 has added a “fresh lease of life” to the activities of the militant outfit.

Since September 1, the police say, at least 11 people, from Tinsukia and Udalguri districts, have joined the outfit, and another 11 have surrendered. In Tinsukia district, considered a hotbed for the outfit, nine youths joined the outfit in 2017 and 2018, while the police have “brought back” 22 people to the mainstream, they said.


Social media use by militants a new trend in Assam

The use of social media by ULFA(I) is a new trend in Assam when compared to similar use of such online means by militants in Kashmir. The police say results now are similar to what is seen in the Valley. The police are tracking activities sympathetic to the militant outfit on social media, and individuals picked up for putting up subversive posts are often counselled.

Bhattacharyya said the resurgence of linguistic fault-lines with the Citizenship Bill remains an important issue. Recruitment was also driven by unemployment, he added.

“For youths coming back from (militant) outfits, we need good rehabilitation policies – with jobs and schemes to ensure that they can sustain. There should also be counselling at school and at home,” he said.

Bhattacharyya said although there was no immediate data to compare the figures accumulated from September, there has been “no input from other intelligence agencies about any remarkable spurt in the number of cadres in the jungles of Myanmar”.

“My estimate is that overall there are 200-odd active ULFA cadres now,” the officer said.

But he pointed out that use of social media — propaganda videos and comments promoting pro-ULFA(I) sentiments — is helping the outfit reach people.

Software engineer from Assam joins ULFA(I), uploads video
Abhijeet Gogoi in the video that he posted on social media.

Last month, a video surfaced on social media, featuring Abhijeet Gogoi, 27 — it showed him dressed in military fatigues and holding a rifle, and explaining why he picked up arms. In October, a video featuring Pratim Dutta, previously a local leader of All-Assam Student Union in Golaghat district, had emerged.

“Recently, 85 names of people found to be making pro-ULFA(I) comments on social media have been forwarded to the police in different districts for necessary action, and to counsel them,” Bhattacharyya said.

Bhattacharya said many young people surrender after joining ULFA(I) since they get disillusioned with the

He added, “There are 13 groups which are currently in suspension of operation agreement with government of Assam – and that could happen only because the youth got a chance to ventilate their grievances.”

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