Murky politics

Print edition : August 24, 2012

The movement for Bodoland has been riddled with contradictions, even more so after the signing of the Bodo Accord in 1993.

FOR the Bodos, the largest plains tribe of Assam, the past several decades have been tumultuous. They tried to assert their territory-linked ethno-linguistic and ethno-cultural identity and clamoured for political and cultural autonomy through movements spearheaded by mass organisations as well as armed groups, with each group claiming to be their sole representative. In the course of this long journey, the Bodos developed sharp contradictions not only with various communities sharing the same territory but also among themselves, which often overshadowed their movements for autonomy.

These contradictions among the various political as well as non-political Bodo groups have made Bodo politics murkier by the day, adding to the tension that has been building up over the years in areas under the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD) comprising the four districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri. The BTAD is administered by the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), which was set up under the amended provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.

Such contradictions became more prominent after the signing of the first tripartite Bodo Accord by the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) and its political wing, the Bodo Peoples Action Committee (BPAC), with the Centre and the Assam government on February 20, 1993, drawing the curtains on a six-year-long vigorous statehood movement by the Bodos, which technically began in 1987 under the leadership of Upendranath Brahma of the ABSU. The accord paved the way for the creation of the Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC). However, the BAC became a failed experiment as its territory was not fully demarcated, leaving room for all kinds of confusion and resentment among the Bodo groups, their leaders and the Bodo masses. The ABSU, under its then president Swambla Basumatary, rejected and denounced the Bodo Accord and revived its demand for the creation of a separate State of Bodoland to be carved out of Assam, and submitted a memorandum to the then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao on March 19, 1996.

On July 30, 1996, Swambla Basumatary was assassinated by militants of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB). The NDFB was known as the Boro Security Force at the time of its inception on October 3, 1986, until it took the new nomenclature in 1993. The separatist outfit has been waging an armed campaign for a sovereign Boroland and self-determination of the Bodos.

What followed was fierce fratricidal clashes among the Bodos, with the NDFB and the erstwhile Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), which too waged an armed campaign for statehood running parallel with the ABSU-led revived statehood movement, killing loyalists and sympathisers of each other. The BLT was formed on June 18, 1996.

SECOND PEACE ACCORD

Informal talks between the government and the erstwhile BLT started in 1999 and a formal cessation of hostilities was declared on March 15, 2000. The BLT signed the peace accord, popularly known as the second Bodo Accord, with New Delhi and Dispur on February 10, 2003. On December 6, 2003, a total of 2,630 BLT cadres laid down arms, which included 508 assorted weapons and 17,137 different pieces of ammunitions.

The democratic and unarmed sections of the Bodo groups the ABSU and the erstwhile Coordination Committee for the Bodoland Movement (CCBM), which spearheaded the revived statehood movement, were sidelined at the time of the signing of the second Bodo Accord even though they enjoyed more popular support than the erstwhile BLT. However, they backed the peace deal, and this allowed the leaders of the erstwhile BLT to get the upper hand when it came to the constitution of the BTC under the amended provisions of the Sixth Schedule, which was offered and accepted by the BLT in lieu of a separate State.

Initially, some ABSU-CCBM leaders were accommodated in the ad hoc BTC. However, at the time of the formation of the full-fledged BTC and the holding of elections to the tribal council, the former militants did their best to sideline them and this led to a split in the Bodo political party, the Bodoland Peoples Progressive Front (BPPF), which was hurriedly constituted by former BLT leaders and ABSU-CCBM leaders. The party split into the BPPF (Hagrama), led by Hagrama Mahilary, the erstwhile BLT chief and chief executive member of the ad hoc BTC, and BPPF (Rabiram), led by Rabiram Narzary, former ABSU president. Subsequently, the first election to the BTC was marred by widespread clashes between the two factions. The people gave the BPPF (Hagrama) the mandate to rule the tribal council as they felt that Mahilary, being the signatory to the Bodo Accord, would be in a better position to bring more funds and development to BTC areas. The BPPF (Hagrama) was later rechristeneds the Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF), which is the coalition partner of the ruling Congress in Assam since 2006, and has one Minister in the Tarun Gogoi Cabinet. The split between the BPF and the BPPF widened in the subsequent Assembly elections in 2006 and 2011 and in the Lok Sabha elections in 2009, which the BPF won hands down.

In 2008, the BTAD areas witnessed a fresh round of fratricidal killings. Gunmen killed 82 persons known to be supporters of the ABSU, the NDFB, the BPF, the BPPF, or former BLT cadre. The ABSU charged the State government with inaction. It said the government was not taking measures to stop the killings or to bring the culprits to book.

NDFB SPLIT

On December 15, 2008, the general assembly of the NDFB replaced its founder chairman Ranjan Daimary with a new leader, B. Sungthagra alias Dhiren Boro. However, 12 days after his removal, Daimary claimed that he was still the president of the NDFB. On January 1, 2009, the NDFB expelled Daimary for his alleged involvement in the October 30 serial blasts. This split the outfit into two factions, one led by Sungthagra and known as the NDFB (Ceasefire) and the other led by the 51-year-old Daimary. Subsequently, the NDFB (Ceasefire) came to be known as the NDFB (Progressive) and the other faction as the NDFB (Ranjan Daimary).

It was Daimary who initiated a peace process by declaring a unilateral ceasefire on October 8, 2004, for a period of six months, which was extended to another three months. Subsequently, he signed a bilateral agreement with the Central government on May 25, 2005, on the suspension of operations. The same year, 855 NDFB cadre led by its general secretary, Govinda Basumatary, moved into three designated camps in Kokrajhar, Baksa and Udalguri districts. Daimary, however, did not come overground; he continued to operate out of his bases in Bangladesh along with armed cadre of the third battalion of the militant outfit until he was arrested in Bangladesh in 2010 and handed over to the Border Security Force (BSF). He has been in jail since then.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) named Daimary and 19 others of his outfit in the charge sheet filed by it in connection with the October 30, 2008, serial blasts in Assam. Altogether 88 persons were killed, at least 540 persons injured, and public property worth Rs.2.99 crore was damaged in the nine synchronised blasts in the State.

A new umbrella organisation of the Bodos, called the Bodo National Conference (BNC), was formed at a two-day Bodo National Convention in Kokrajhar on November 19, 2010, with the objective of providing a common platform for all Bodo organisations political and non-political to fight for their common causes, including the demand for a separate State of Bodoland. A four-member convening committee of the new Bodo organisation, headed by Mahilary, was also formed at the convention. The other members of the committee included Govinda Basumatary.

However, the NDFB (Progressive) distanced itself from the BNC in November 2011 on the grounds that the BNC did not have the issue of a separate State of Bodoland on its agenda. The NDBF (Progressive) said it had been holding talks with the Government of India on the issue of a separate State. However, the real reason for the Progressive factions decision to pull out of the umbrella organisation was that the BNC leaders were seen to be moving closer to the Ranjan faction.

In August 2011, the Ranjan faction declared an indefinite cessation of hostilities to find a durable and sustainable political solution to the conflict through political dialogue and discussion. The declaration came after an 11-member delegation of the BNC met Daimary at the Nagaon central jail on July 20, 2011.

Another body called the Peoples Joint Action Committee for Boroland Movement (PJACBM), a banner organisation of 51 Bodo and non-Bodo groups, was formed on March 30 after six months of consultations to launch a peaceful and democratic agitation to achieve the goal of a separate State.

An all BODO Students Union rally, which was organised to observe 25 years of the Bodoland movement, in Guwahati on February 3.-PTI

The ABSU revived its statehood demand on December 2, 2010, on the grounds that the BTC had failed to fulfil the hopes and aspirations of the Bodos and that the Assam government had failed to protect the identity, culture and language of the people. The BPF, too, has been demanding the creation of a separate State and has taken the position, like the ABSU, that if a separate Telangana State is created, a separate State of Bodoland should also be created. The Bodos appear to be thoroughly confused as to which organisation they should side with.

It is not clear what formula New Delhi and Dispur have in mind to offer to the Progressive faction. The Assam government has ruled out further division of the State. There is also no indication whether the Ranjan faction will be agreeable to any formula arrived at by New Delhi, Dispur and the NDFB (Progressive). What will be the fate of the BTC in the wake of an alternative arrangement that may come up as a consequence of the Progressive faction signing a peace deal? Will the ABSU back any peace deal reached between the government and the NDFB (Progressive)? These and many other unanswered questions are likely to keep the ethnic pot boiling.

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