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NDFB–Songbijit faction: Snatching Arms, Extending Hold

POSTED ON 27 OCTOBER 2014

Arunav Goswami
research fellow, CDPS

With two factions of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) in ceasefire with the government, the third faction, led by I. K. Songbijit, is making all efforts to spread its influence in Assam. It has been involved in numerous incidents of violence, extortion and kidnappings since its split from the Ranjan Daimary faction in November 2012. More recently, the outfit was involved in incidents of snatching of weapons from security forces.

On 21 October 2014, NDFB-Songbijit (NDFB-S) militants snatched seven Insas rifles with ammunition from the Eco-Task Force (ETF) personnel of the Territorial Army in a forest in Kokrajhar district of Assam along the Indo-Bhutan border. The militants took away 21 magazines and 420 rounds of live ammunition from the ETF personnel who had gone to the forest at Saralbhanga area. Then again on 22 October 2014, NDFB-S militants snatched three 303 rifles, one 315 rifle, walkie-talkies, torchlights, mobile phones and other items from the forest guards inside Manas National Park, located in the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) of Assam. This snatching of weapons may be due to seizure of many of their arms by the security forces. In 2014 (till May 14), security forces had seized 150 arms from NDFB-S, in 2013, they had seized 120 arms and in 2012, as many as 122 arms were seized from the rebels.

The NDFB-S was formed after a split in the NDFB - Ranjan Daimary faction. Songbijit, who was earlier ‘chief’ of Bodoland Army (the armed wing of NDFB – Ranjan Daimary faction), announced the formation of a nine member “interim national council” on 20 November 2012, with Songbijit as its self-proclaimed “interim president”. The Songbijit faction of NDFB is said to have around 270 - 300 cadres and is active mainly in western Assam’s BTAD area, which comprises of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri districts. Fifteen members of the outfit, including its chief I. K. Songbijit, has already been declared as ‘most wanted’ by the Assam Police in January 2014.

The NDFB-S has been involved in numerous violent incidents. During the year 2014 (till October 19), NDFB-S was involved in the killing of 25 persons, including an additional SP of Assam Police. The police also claim the involvement of the group in the killing of 46 persons during May 2014 in Narayanguri and Khagrabari villages in Baksa district and Balapara in Kokrajhar district. During the same period, security forces arrested 54 cadres of the outfit while 37 cadres were killed in encounters. In 2013, the security forces had arrested 72 cadres of the NDFB-S and had killed 21 cadres in encounters.

During the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections in April-May 2014, the NDFB-S was involved in demanding money from at least five candidates who were contesting the polls. Bhupen Bora, the Congress candidate from Tezpur Lok Sabha constituency and Dr Parvez Ahmed, Trinamool Congress candidate for Barpeta constituency, had reported the issue to the Police. The NDFB-S militants are also being hired by criminals of West Bengal to help them during abductions for ransom. The services of the outfit are hired for providing a hideout till the ransom amount is realized.

The Bodo heartland of Assam has been in constant turmoil for many years. The peace talk between the government and the two factions of the NDFB is yet to make an impact on the security dynamics of the area. The peace process is set to face a stumbling block again with the TADA court in Guwahati sending Ranjan Daimary back to jail after his interim bail period expired on 29 September 2014. He was earlier released from jail on bail in June 2013 to expedite the process of peace talks.

With the cry for a separate Bodoland state yet to die down in the BTAD area, the presence of groups like NDFB-S is always a threat. With the Bodos constituting only 27 per cent of the total population in BTAD, there are many who are opposed to the idea of a separate Bodoland. As such, one cannot deny the use of outfits like NDFB-S to force and intimidate the non-Bodo population to support the idea of Bodoland or force non-Bodos to leave the area. The environment in the Bodo heartland of Assam is quite volatile. A small incident has the ability to spark off massive violence in the region, as is evident from the clashes that took place in the area earlier.

The security forces admit that NDFB-S is at present the most active group in Assam and the forces are making all efforts to curb the growth of the outfit. The Ministry of Home Affairs has stated in its Annual Report 2012-13 that it would not talk to breakaway factions of insurgent groups. The government must follow this and should not extend an olive branch to this outfit. The last thing that Assam needs is another faction of NDFB entering into talks and complicate the already long running peace talks in the troubled Bodo belt.