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Peace Talks and Statehood Demands: Delhi's Bodo Knot

POSTED ON 27 MARCH 2014

rani pathak das
SENIOR RESEARCH ASSOCIATE, CDPS

The Government of India’s approach to the prolonged insurgency and agitations in Assam’s Bodo heartland seems to have complicated the Bodo issue further. In the nearly three decades, since the Bodoland movement began on 2 March 1987 under the leadership of Upendranath Brahma of the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU), the Government has inked two peace agreements with different Bodo groups. The first Bodo accord, signed on 20 February 1993 between Government of Assam and ABSU, proved to be a failed experiment as the territory was not fully demarcated in the accord. The agreement only led to ethnic conflict and ethnic cleansing as it said that those villages having 50 per cent or more Bodo people will be included in the proposed Autonomous Council. The second Bodo peace accord, signed between the Central Government, the State Government and the leaders of BLT (Bodo Liberation Tigers) on 10 February 2003 led to the formation of the BTC (Bodoland Territorial Council) with a jurisdiction over four districts: Kokrajhar, Baksa, Udalguri and Chirang. However, the BTC area actually includes 70 per cent non-Bodo people, who are against the creation of Bodoland.

Despite signing of two accords, conflict in Bodo areas multiplied, instead of getting resolved. The National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) declared ceasefire on 8 October 2004 and it signed a Suspension of Operation agreement with the Central Government on 25 May 2005. While the Government was engaged in peace negotiations with the NDFB led by Govinda Basumatary, its founder chairman Ranjan Daimary did not come over ground and continued terror from its base in Bangladesh. After the arrest of Ranjan Daimary in May 2010, the Government again offered peace talk to the Ranjan Daimary faction of NDFB—the person who was expelled by the NDFB on 1 January 2009 for his alleged involvement in the 30 October 2008 serial blasts in Assam. The Government, now, is in two separate peace dialogues, one with the NDFB(R) since November 2013, after the release of Ranjan Daimary from jail, and the other with the NDFB (Progressive). Thus, solution to the Bodo problem has been entangled in a complex web.

The Government’s negotiations with the two factions of the NDFB has now taken an entirely new dimension with the raising of statehood demand by the mainstream Bodo groups like the ABSU. The ABSU was joined by the Peoples’ Joint Action Committee for Bodoland Movement (PJACBM), a conglomeration of 55 outfits of various ethnic groups in the proposed Bodoland, which announced the revival of the Bodo statehood agitation on 30 July 2013. This followed the ruling Congress party’s decision to grant a separate state of Telangana by dividing Andhra Pradesh. The BPF (Bodo People’s Front)—the party who is ruling the Bodo Council—also joined the statehood cry since they did not want to be left behind and run the risk of being rendered politically irrelevant. Now that Telengana has been created as the 29th state of India, with the bill passed by voice votes in both the houses of the Parliament on 20 February 2014, New Delhi’s Bodo knot got further tightened.

The Government must be aware of the tough challenge ahead in untying the Bodo knot. That, of course, is the result of its own strategies like buying time or trying to find immediate solutions that lack a long term vision. Factions in the NDFB are increasing and with the split in NDFB(R), the new NDFB faction headed by IK Songbijit, a Karbi youth, has appeared in the Bodo conflict theatre, causing violence and mayhem and drawing the Centre’s attention in the process. Besides, the Songbijit faction is awaiting legitimacy by getting a possible invitation to talk peace. After the creation of the Bodoland Territorial Council in 2003, it was expected that more autonomy may be at the offer for NDFB. The question here is what remains to be negotiated with either of the NDFB factions, if the Government is deliberating upon granting a separate Bodoland state by conceding the demand of the mainstream Bodo groups? What will happen to the BTC accord?

When Pramod Boro, the ABSU president warned that the demand for Bodoland would not be compromised under any circumstances and if the third round of tripartite talks between the Government and the students’ organization does not throw up a concrete result, there would be widespread protests in mid-March, after the classes X and XII examinations are over, the Government took it seriously. To thwart possible violence during the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections (scheduled 7 April- 12 May 2014), the Government formed an expert committee headed by former Home Secretary G K Pillai to study the viability of the demand for the creation of a separate state of Bodoland. However, the Committee has already faced fierce opposition by the ABSU and its allies. Mr Pillai’s proposed visit to Kokrajhar district as part of the Committee’s first preliminary study on 4 March 2014, and the subsequent cancelling of his visit due to “logistic” reasons, has only propelled the anger, going to the extent of branding the Committee as an election gimmick by many. On the other hand, the non-Bodo organizations have strongly opposed the creation of the Committee fearing the grant of Bodoland state by the Centre by a further division of Assam.

The relative calm in Assam’s Bodo heartland, with the formation of the expert committee to examine the viability of the Bodoland state, is no cause for complacency. Government of India’s tactics of buying peace may have to pay heavily in the long run with lack of any acceptable solution in hand to offer to all the parties in the dialogue process. Will the Government be able to bring all the Bodo groups in a common platform for talks and negotiations? That’s the million dollar question. (courtesy: www.ipcs.org)