DURING A RECENT BOOK LAUNCH, former diplomat and Congress minister Mani Shankar Aiyar had said that one of the biggest foreign policy failures of post-colonial India was to “live up to the spirit of 1971.” But even as he elaborated on how India had steadily lost ground in Bangladesh and had failed to consolidate a friendship born of the shared experience of a war of liberation, in December 2009 the Bangladesh police nabbed Arabinda Rajkhowa, the ‘chairman’ of the separatist United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and his entire entourage at the coastal town of Cox’s Bazar and dragged him back to Dhaka.
Two days later, the ULFA ‘chairman’ and his family, along with a senior military wing leader, Raju Baruah, and his personal bodyguard, Raja Borah, were quietly handed over to the Indian border guards at Dawki in Meghalaya. Unknown to Aiyar, a new chapter was opening in India-Bangladesh relations. And the initiative for that change came from Dhaka – from none other than Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, who had personally ordered the crackdown on the Northeast Indian separatists and had it done with the utmost secrecy.
This was the worst setback for the ULFA since it was thrown out of Bhutan in December 2003. In fact, this was worse. In Bhutan, during ‘Operation All Clear,’ the ULFA had lost four of its best ‘field commanders,’ and some top leaders were arrested. In Bangladesh, however, its entire top leadership, with the exception of military wing chief Paresh Barua, have been nabbed and handed over to India. And this, despite the absence of an extradition treaty between the two countries at that time. The other rebel groups in Tripura and Assam are also feeling the heat.