India Insight

Zubeen Garg: not Assamese enough for separatist group

(Note: paragraph six contains graphic language)

When in Assam, sing like the Assamese do. That was the message from the separatist group United Liberation Front of Assam to singer Zubeen Garg. The 40-year-old singer, born in Jorhat in Assam, irked ULFA last week when he sang Hindi songs at a Bihu festival.

That’s a poke in the eye for the rebel group. Bihu is a major cultural festival in Assam, taking place three times a year. It’s a big deal for the most populous largest state in northeast India, and ULFA didn’t like Garg’s decision to sing in Hindi (check his song “Ya Ali” here) because its leaders consider doing that an erosion of Assamese culture.

“Zubeen is a talented singer but that does not mean he should consider himself an ambassador of Hindi and go all out to promote it. If he continues to do so, we shall not be responsible for any consequences,” the group wrote in a letter to the Press Trust of India wire service.

As a reply, on his Facebook fan page, Garg wrote, “i think assam is a wrong place for creative people. anyway i m gonna skipp all the bihu shows from next year.” (sic) Adding, “no power can dictate an artist.we have our own freedom……my music spoke only love n brotherhood.but some people never understood that.but i will live with my own freedom ….always.” (sic)

As a result, Garg ended up receiving state government security – two bodyguards and a vehicle (not quite what billionaire Mukesh Ambani is getting these days from the government).

Feared India separatist leader invests millions in Bangladesh

The military leader of a rebel group seeking independence for India’s isolated north-eastern state of Assam earns millions of dollars each year from investments in Bangladesh, a Bangladeshi intelligence report seen by a local news agency revealed.

The news could test warming relations between the south Asian neighbours who for years clashed over the issue of rebels finding shelter in Bangladesh.

Paresh Barua heads a hardline faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and is now believed to operate from camps in Myanmar, which borders Assam. The news of his investments sheds light on how he keeps his unit running. The U.S. State Department in 2006 estimated ULFA had several hundred fighters.