Bodo militant groups respond to the delay in the formation of the Bodoland Territorial Council with the threat to revive their struggle for a separate state.
THE delay in the formation of the proposed Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) is likely to worsen the situation and lead to a fresh outbreak of violence and insurgency in the Bodo-dominated regions of Lower Assam. The Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), the militant group that signed a ceasefire agreement with the Centre in the face of stiff opposition from its rival, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), has threatened to revive its militant movement for a separate state if the Centre and the Assam government do not make a formal announcement of the formation of the BTC by the end of May.
"The BLT launched its movement for statehood to fulfil the aspirations of the Bodo people. After several rounds of talks with the Centre and the State government since the ceasefire agreement in March 2000, we agreed to give up our demand for a separate state and settle for a territorial council. But if the process of creating the council is delayed further, we will be compelled to revive the movement," BLT publicity secretary Mainao Daimary told Frontline.
The BLT, which is supported by the All Bodo Students' Union (ABSU) and several other Bodo groups and has been negotiating directly with the Centre, wants the Assam government to expedite the process of creating the BTC by taking a "positive stand" on the issue of amending the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. "The trust and confidence reposed in the State government by the Bodo people are fast eroding because of the inordinate delay in creating the council," Daimary said.
On April 22, the Coordination Commi-ttee for Bodoland Movement, a federation of several Bodo groups, held a rally in Guwahati to put pressure on the State government to hasten the creation of the BTC. In fact, the Congress(I)-led Assam government headed by Tarun Gogoi, had agreed to the proposal for the formation of a new administrative council, but certain non-Bodo groups operating in Lower Assam's Brahmaputra Valley put a spanner in the works by launching a campaign against it under the banner of the Sanmilito Janagosthiyo Sangram Samity (SJSS), an umbrella organisation of 21 non-Bodo groups.
Daimary said the opposition of non-Bodo groups to the BTC was a manifestation of the "politics of opportunism" practised by a section of Congress(I) leaders. "They have been instigating anti-BTC forces. In any case, the actions of these non-Bodo groups indicate that they are against the development of Bodo-dominated areas," Daimary said. He added that non-Bodo people (mainly Hindu and Muslim Bengali settlers from erstwhile East Pakistan) need not be afraid of being sidelined once the new administrative machinery was put in place. "There is no ground for the non-Bodo people to feel insecure. Even after the creation of the BTC, the law of the land will be as it is now." Daimary alleged that the NDFB was harming the interests of the Bodo people by targeting leaders and supporters of organisations that want peace in the Bodo-dominated region and killing innocent non-Bodo people.
In its latest action to foil the BLT's move for the speedy formation of the BTC, the NDFB gunned down a top leader of the ABSU, Khwrawmkhang Boro, on April 18. The action has raised fears of a fresh spurt in fratricidal killings in the Bodo heartland. The NDFB had massacred Koch-Rajbongshis in the same area of Barpeta district in early April. "With almost all hurdles having been cleared for the creation of the BTC, the NDFB is finding itself completely alienated. The killing is basically a show of strength and a warning to all those who support the move for the creation of the BTC," ABSU president Rabiram Narzary said.
The NDFB is opposed to the creation of the BTC as it believes that such a development will render its armed struggle for a "sovereign Bodoland" redundant. Over the years, BLT and the NDFB cadre have targeted each other and both have maintained demarcated areas of operations in the Bodo-dominated region. The NDFB considers the BLT a "puppet" of the Indian government. Although the ongoing talks between the BLT and the Centre mark forward movement, the Bodo people fear that the Assam government will let them down in the creation of a BTC. It was after 14 rounds of talks since March 2000 between the BLT and the Centre that a sub-committee was formed to prepare the proposals for the formation of the BTC for consideration by the Centre and the Assam government.
The current mood of the Bodo people and organisations is reminiscent of the situation that prevailed before the signing of the Bodo Accord on February 20, 1993 between the Centre and the ABSU. Although the accord paved the way for the formation of the Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC), it failed to put an end to the tribal militancy in the State.
It was at the initiative of the late Congress(I) leader and former Union Minister of State for Home Rajesh Pilot that the Bodo Accord was signed. However, the accord turned out to be a flawed one as it was drafted in haste, leaving many questions unattended to. The accord proposed that at least five districts in Lower Assam with non-Bodo people forming the majority population be included in the BTC. The SJSS alleged that the creation of the BTC would turn the non-Bodo people into "second class citizens" and "give the Bodos the opportunity to oppress us".
Since the signing of the Bodo Accord, ethnic tension has been prevailing in the BAC region, which covers nearly 2,300 sq km in the Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Barpeta, Nalbari, Darrang, Mangaldai and Sonitpur districts on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra. A section of the Bodo leadership wanted 515 more villages to be included in the BAC and later in the proposed BTC because the area, it claimed, was contiguous. The then Congress(I) State government, led by Hiteswar Saikia, took the position that the villages could not be included in the BAC as Bodos constituted less than 2 per cent of their population.
The situation worsened further when Bodo militant groups, especially the NDFB, the BLT and the Bodo Security Forces (BdSF), demanded that Bodoland be "liberated" and started attacking members of non-Bodo communities. The militants raised the slogan "Liberated Bodoland is for Bodos only". Since 1994 the extremist groups have been drawing up an action plan to "cleanse" Bodo villages of non-Bodo settlers, including Hindu and Muslim Bengalis from the former East Pakistan and Adivasi groups such as Santhals, Oraons, Mundas and Rajbansis, to change the ethnic composition of the areas. (In fact, Adivasis settled in Assam during the days of the Raj.) As the militant groups know that the Bodo people in the so-called Bodoland or in areas under the BAC do not constitute more than 30 per cent of the total population of about 30 lakhs, the Bodo militants need to evacuate non-Bodos in order to dominate the region. Massacres, arson and land-grabbing by Bodo militants forced thousands of non-Bodos to leave their villages and take shelter in camps set up by the government. Informed sources said that currently about one lakh non-Bodos were sheltered in about 20 camps in Kokrajhar, Goalpara, Bongaigaon and Dhubri.
Meanwhile, an all-party meeting convened by Tarun Gogoi on March 20 decided that the boundaries of the BAC should form the "basis" to demarcate the boundaries of the BTC. The meeting, which was chaired by Gogoi, was attended by the representatives of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Asom Gana Parishad, the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) and the Janata Dal (United). Bharat Chandra Narah, a Minister and a member of the Cabinet sub-committee on BTC, said that the State government was open to further negotiations on the boundary issue. Narah reiterated that the State government was not against the creation of the BTC under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. However, it wanted adequate safeguards to protect the rights of the non-Bodos living in the proposed BTC area. The State government presented its position on the boundaries of the BTC at the tripartite meeting with the Centre and the BLT, held in Delhi on March 23. The meeting was inconclusive. The final rounds of talks are to be held in the last week of May.