Guwahati: Insurgency took a backseat as Assam witnessed a peaceful year during which the Tarun Gogoi-led government was re-elected for its third consecutive term and talks process with the ULFA gathered momentum but the state lost two of its doyens -- singer-composer Bhupen Hazarika and writer Indira Goswami.

Agitation against mega dams spearheaded by Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) and the All Assam Students Union (AASU) besides border issues with Nagaland and Meghalaya and also handing of adversely possessed areas along the international boundary with Bangladesh kept the state in headlines.

The state went into mourning in November when Hazarika and Goswami passed away within a span of 25 days following prolonged illness. Hazarika's immense popularity was evident as life came to a standstill with mourners filing past the maestro's body for three days which compelled the state government to postpone the cremation.

Goswami, whose writings were poignant portrayal of constant struggle to overcome pain and suffering of both self and others, took the initiative of persuading the banned ULFA to come forward for dialogue. Her efforts may not have yielded immediate results but they definitely paved the way for the ongoing talks process.

The Congress returned to power after a relatively violence-free election in the state, the first time in decades. The party's twin planks of peace and development paid off as it won 76 of the 126 assembly seats (up from 53 in the outgoing assembly) while its ally BPF won 14 seats.

AGP managed to win just 10 seats and the minority-dominated AIUDF unseated it as the main Opposition party winning 18 seats. The BJP, which had launched an aggressive campaign on the issues of corruption and illegal migration, put up a dismal performance winning only four seats.

The 2011 assembly polls assume particular significance as issues of militancy took a backseat with the ULFA deciding for the first time since its inception not to involve itself directly either by calling for a boycott or obstructing the electoral process.

Analysts attributed the primary cause for the relatively violence-free year in Assam to the peace talks initiated with the ULFA, which submitted its 'Charter of Demands' to Union Home Minister P Chidambaram in August.

Top ULFA leaders, led by its 'chairman' Arabinda Rajkhowa, had earlier held several rounds of parleys with Centre's interlocutor P C Haldar to prepare the ground rules for the talks.

While the ULFA's pro-talk faction has said many times that it will give up violence and suspend all operations for initiating talks, the group's elusive 'commander-in-chief' Paresh Baruah is opposed to any dialogue with the government if "sovereignty" issue was not a part of the discussions.

The divide within the ULFA came to the fore during the initiation of the talks process but it further widened during the year with the anti-talk faction forming a new Central Committee in November appointing Abhijit Barman as the 'Acting Chairman'.

The anti-talk faction released a statement saying that it was compelled to constitute a new committee as the earlier members were currently on bail but was for all purpose under the custody of the Indian government.

The government also initiated talks process with other militant groups including pro-talk NDFB and DHD while the Centre signed a Memorandum of Settlement with the United Peoples' Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), which bade farewell to arms and would contest the forthcoming Autonomous Council polls in Karbi Anglong.

Another major issue that hogged the limelight during the year was the anti-mega dam movement spearheaded by the KMSS and AASU against the NHPC constructed 2000 MW hydel power project at Lower Subansiri in Assam's northern bank.

Opposition AGP and BJP made this a major issue during the assembly polls though it failed to have much impact on the results. The campaign, however, continued and gathered momentum during the later part of the year.

The agitation reached a flash point when the turbines, which had been earlier offloaded at Jogighopa in Lower Assam resumed its onward journey to the dam site at Gerukamukh.

The KMSS blocked national highways at various places in the state while AASU activists blocked the waterways and warned the state government of intensifying their agitation to stall the NHPC project apprehending catastrophic downstream impact of the mega dam project in Assam plains.

An expert group comprising experts from IIT-Guwahati, Gauhati University and Dibrugarh University had earlier recommended against construction of the mega dam due to the geological and seismological sensitive location of the area.

(Agencies)