Nava Thakuria
New Delhi, India.

The militants from Assam are not only taking shelter in Bangladesh, but they had also invested money in the local media. It is suspected that the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) has taken stakes in a popular English daily publication. The Daily Star, a Dhaka based newspaper had reportedly received money from the leaders of ULFA at the initial stage.

The office of the daily was contacted for clarification on the issue, but the response was not convincing.

The issue comes alive with a series of articles with concern in the international media. First it was Sunita Paul, who made a comprehensive article on media’s link to ‘evil forces or vested interest’. Mentioning about the Bangladesh’s leading media group (Transcom Media), which owns the English newspaper ‘The Daily Star’ with a Bengali daily ‘Prothom Alo’ and two periodicals namely ‘Shaptahik 2000’ and ‘Anandadhara’. Known as the ‘Daily Star Group’ in Bangladesh, which enjoys highest circulation among English dailies in the country, also owns an FM radio named ‘Aina Broadcasting Corporation’.

In the article titled ‘When the media turns into evil’ and released by the portals of Global Politician and American Chronicle recently, the writer elaborated the back ground of the media group. She mentioned that one Latifur Rahman, the man behind the success of the media house, came in contact with a powerful ULFA leader. Anup Chetia, the then ULFA secretary (presently behind bars in Dhaka’s central jail), came forward to help him in business.

“It is learnt that a few million dollars were placed with Latifur Rahman in re-organising his collapsed business and ULFA kept a secret stake of shares in all businesses initiated by Latifur Rahman after receipt of this secret fund,” the writer explained.

Latifur Rahman soon launched a company named Transcom, which began businesses as the sole distributor of Nestle brand milk products in Bangladesh. Soon, it emerged as one of the mightiest enterprises in the country. Meanwhile, when Dhaka’s well respected journalist S M Ali took the initiative of launching an English language newspaper, Latifur was suggested by ULFA to buy shares, as such investment would buy media influence for the separatist group, revealed by the writer.

“S M Ali was successful in placing Daily Star at the forefront of Dhaka’s English press, because of his extra-ordinary qualities and courage. Just in few years, this newly launched newspaper subsided most of the competitor dailies such as Bangladesh Observer, Bangladesh Times (now defunct), New Nation, Morning Sun (now defunct) and Financial Express. But sudden demise of S M Ali opened the opportunity for Latifur Rahman to swallow the newspaper. He brought Mahfuz Anam as the editor of the newspaper, who subsequently ousted ancestors of S M Ali and grabbed his shares. This was the beginning of notorious journey of Daily Star group,” the writer documented.

More recently, a Guwahati based English daily ‘The Assam Tribune’, made an important news item describing about ULFA’s investment in the Bangladesh Daily Star group. Quoting, of course, Sunita Paul’s write up, the acclaimed daily reported that ULFA’s business interests in Bangladesh was no secret, but ‘what has come as a surprise is the revelation about its stakes in a leading media house in the neighbouring country’.

“Even as Indian security agencies kept up pressure on Dhaka to shut down the enterprises run by ULFA, the militant outfit has quietly expanded its business portfolio in the country. New Delhi had, a couple of years ago, furnished a list of businesses suspected to be owned by ULFA along with a series of account numbers. None of the business entities could be traced, Dhaka had told India. ULFA’s business interests were diverse, ranging from driving schools, nursing homes, hotels to garment export houses to deep-sea trawlers,” the Assam daily described.

Following the exposure, this writer tried to contact the editor of the Bangladesh daily by telephone. As the editor was out of the country for quite some times, a senior journalist from the news desk of ‘The Daily Star’ responded to this writer to deny this allegation. But he was not ready for initiating any official clarification to the issue. Later he wanted the details of the article and report through e-mail, which was sent to him with a request to clarify their stand on the issue, but no response came till date.

The issue became a matter of discussion and concern among many senior editor-journalists of Dhaka as well. Responding to my queries, a senior Bangladeshi journalist told that he had no idea about the issue, but he did not rule out the possibility of such nexus between the militant group and the media group. Moreover, he emphasised for an open debate on the issue. But a Dhaka based editor asserted that the information put by the writer on ULFA’s money in the media group was correct. And hence, the newspaper authority remained silent though the allegation was raised by the media and even later their office was contacted (by telephone and e-mail) with full details.

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Nava Thakuria is a senior journalist from Assam, India and regularly contributes in The Assam Times, Assam Tribune, Meri News, News Track India etc.