“Rendezvous with rebels” is a book on a dream journey that Rajeev Bhattacharyya embarked upon, after nurturing it for two decades, to have a tête-à-tête with Chief of Staff, ULFA, Paresh Baruah. Although, Bhattacharyya has claimed this book to be his travelogue yet when one reads it, this book emerges as a “travelogue of insurgency movement in North East India and what remains of it”- where it’s flickering to survive, almost on its death bed.
This book is laced with facts from the “horse’s mouth” that would put to rest the speculations surrounding several past incidents in which ULFA was subjected to gossip, as in the case of the murder of noted activist, Sanjay Ghose. Likewise, the author quoted SS Khaplang on several incidents including the fallout with Kitovi faction. The book is peppered with many such clarifications and verifications all throughout its 300 pages, besides several exclusive “never seen before” pictures.
Significance of the book lies in the fact that nearly three decades after Bertil Lintner’s historic journey and its published accounts of the Myanmar-based camps of NSCNs, geo-politics in South East Asia has undergone a sea-change. And information on the Indian insurgent groups based out of North-Eastern Myanmar was mostly based on “sourced information”—speculative and unverified. Against such backdrop, Bhattacharya’s account is the most authentic ground report on the North East India’s dreaded insurgents—ULFA and NSCN (K), its leadership and thought processes, of its cadres, camps and linkages.
It provides an insight on the transition from being a revolutionary group to anarchists; thereby exposing the shallowness of Paresh Barua’s understanding of the ground situation since he went underground almost four decades ago.
At certain points, micro details of trekking, trail and topography does take a toll but the fluid narration makes up for it. Editing could have been tighter and sharper. However, to readers delight, this book lifts the layers on lead insurgent protagonists in the NE region and provides a real time peek-a-boo into the lives of armed cadres in the camps.
It fails to shed light on “behind the scenes” high-drama that almost derailed author’s dream trip in the first week itself. The book appears incomplete without clarifications on “sourced information of his kidnapping, ransom exchanged for his safe release etc.” as traded by many senior journalists in both print and electronic media of the region.
Bhattacharya could have added a chapter or two on “Seven Sisters Post”, a newspaper that he edited—its grand launch, blitzkrieg on security reporting, rise to prominence and events before it went kaput. Perhaps, another book could render better justice, and more exclusive photographs would make for a better cocktail.