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Divide in Bodo belt a pain for clueless Assam Government


wasbir hussain
Executive Director, CDPS & Visiting Fellow, IPCS

There are fresh tremors in the Bodo heartland that is turning into an ethnic minefield which is ungovernable. The latest in the recurring death dance in the area is the brutal kidnapping and murder last week of four petty lemon traders in Baksa district, all minority Muslims. The deceased hailed from adjoining Barpeta district and were on a visit to make purchases from Bodo villagers in Baksa.

As usual, the authorities clamped curfew in parts of the district, put the Army on ‘stand by’ and got the area combed by a joint force of the Army, police, SSB and other security agencies. The killers have obviously not been nabbed as yet. It is true there is a total divide among the communities inhabiting the Bodo Council area, particularly between the Bodos and the non–Bodos. But, is the recurring violence in the Bodo belt triggered by this divide? Is it a battle for territorial supremacy? Is a section of Bodos, small or otherwise, engaged in scaring away the settlers so as to alter the demography? Questions are many.

Having said this, I am convinced a policy paralysis on the part of the Assam Government is contributing to the continuing cycle of violence in the Bodo Council area spread over Kokrajhar, Baksa, Chirang and Udalguri. First, the ties between the ruling Congress and the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), the party in power at the Bodo Council, hindered action against the possible kingpins of such violence. Now that the BPF has severed its ties with the Congress, one is bound to witness a U–turn in so far as the stand of the BPF to what’s going on in the area. The ongoing dissident activity in the Congress also seems to be impacting in the Bodo belt. For instance, Minister Siddique Ahmed, a member of the dissident camp, was prevented by the district administration from entering Baksa after last week’s killings for fear it might incite passions. Ahmed, after all, had publicly commented after the May massacre that the State has failed to provide security to the minorities. On his part, the Chief Minister has not paid a visit to the area this time round.

A section of officials directly responsible for law and order in the State feel there are gaps in the security infrastructure front that needs to be bridged. For example, the road network in the Bodo Council area is very poor, making policing of the inaccessible interior areas extremely difficult. Secondly, it is necessary to examine whether a force like the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) deployed along the porous border with Bhutan is the right force put in charge of an area through which heavily armed insurgents criss–cross the border. There is a feeling in security circles that perhaps a force adept in counter–insurgency like the Assam Rifles could be better placed along the Indo–Bhutan border to deal with insurgents roaming the area. And, these circles feel the SSB or the State Police could be a good second line of defence. Third and most important perhaps is improving police infrastructure in the Bodo Council area, particularly police housing. In fact, the Assam Government has earmarked an amount of Rs 500 crore for police housing in remote areas during 2014–15, bulk of which will go to the Bodo Council area.

Neutralizing the militants and demilitarizing the area besides seizure of illegal weapons will help a lot in checking violence in the Bodo belt. Added to these steps, the Government must come out with a clear voice its stand on holding so–called peace talks with insurgents. Talks with each and every breakaway group or faction cannot just continue. It has to stop somewhere. Now, of course, the Assam Government seems to have firmed up a policy not to talk to any new insurgent group or faction and deal with such newer groups or factions as pure law and order problems. This stand has to be articulated clearly and is expected to yield positive results. Until then, ethnic strife and insurgency will continue to irritate Assam.

(courtesy: The Sentinel)