Drishti Rajkhowa, the deputy commander-in-chief of the banned ULFA (I) active in lower Assam and Meghalaya before he surrendered to Military Intelligence in November in the Garo Hills of Meghalaya, said death was inevitable if he did not surrender.
“It feels good to come back to normal life,” said Rajkhowa who was among the 64 militants who laid down arms ceremonially in the presence of Assam Chief Minister Sarbnanda Sonowal and other officials on Monday.
“We are extremely pleased with the ceremonial surrender and the way how the Assam Government and Assam Police have handled us, and the ceremonial surrender. And I think we and the society will be able to benefit from the schemes provided by the government,” he said.
When asked the reason for surrendering, he said he just had two options, “either die or live by surrendering” adding, “I did not take the decision alone as I sat with my comrades and posed the question, what do we do now?”
Sources pointed out Rajkhowa’s wife has not been keeping well, and that was one of the reasons that may have played on his mind before he decided to surrender.
Rajkhowa had a few close shaves with the security forces on the Indo-Bangladesh border in Meghalaya before he turned himself in.
Rajkhowa, 50, an explosive expert, is said to be a close confidante of ULFA(I) chief Paresh Baruah. He was active for around three decades.
Rajkhowa indicated he was trapped by the security forces.
“Even ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah was of the view that I should try and escape. Baruah told me if that is not possible, then I should surrender because he cannot ask me to commit suicide,” Rajkhowa recalled.
Sixty-four militants belonging to four militant outfits laid down arms on December 21 at the Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra. Of the surrendered 64 cadres, 18 belonged to the banned ULFA (I).
Rajkhowa said he won’t be able to comment on Baruah’s surrender. He said ULFA is an organisation that has been fighting for independence, and hence the strength is still there.
“I was a subordinate of Paresh Baruah, so I cannot ask him to surrender. He has been looking after the entire organisation as a father figure, so if I request him to surrender, he might get offended. However, we have realised one thing that there are various for the upliftment of the state and its people, and armed revolution is not the only way. So if my comrades are of the same mindset, then I would like to welcome them to surrender,” said the former deputy commander-in-chief.
Stressing on the need for talks and discussions, Rajkhowa said, “We want the independence of Assam, and hence talks are necessary. Additionally, along with the Assam government, even the Indian government needs to take on a sincere initiative. Also, the top cadres of ULFA and the internal committee needs to take on a positive stance.”
Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who was also present in the ceremonial surrender, said, “Progress can never be made without peace. Nobody can live peacefully with a heart full of hatred. To take forward the society and family forward, those who took the path of violence must join the mainstream and contribute in nation building”.
He further said that those who laid down arms should now commit themselves for promoting brotherhood and friendship and contribute in nation building. He also called upon them to work hand-in-hand following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Team Assam” spirit to build the nation. The Chief Minister on the occasion also urged the militants who are still hiding to shun the path of violence and join the path of peace and progress.
“Assam has been at the receiving end of militancy since the last three decades. But under the leadership of a new era has dawned upon the state. The current government firmly believes in building an Assam that is free of militancy,” tweeted Assam DGP Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta.