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Sowing ‘homeland’ dreams sans care of harvest!


wasbir hussain
director, Centre for Development and Peace Studies

Well, the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) has started blowing its trumpet once again by announcing its decision last fortnight to ‘revive’ its separate Bodoland state demand. Justifying the resumption of the statehood demand, ABSU president Promod Boro said the people in the Bodo heartland expected fulfillment of all their aspirations but have instead seen increase of social insecurity, lawlessness, violent activities and bloodshed among ‘brothers’ on the sidelines of developmental activities in the area. For the record, the ABSU had temporarily suspended its agitation for a separate state of Bodoland on February 16, 2003, following a decision at its 35th annual conference at Kokrajhar. That was within a week of the clinching of the Bodoland Territorial Council Accord between the Government of India, Government of Assam and the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) on February 10, 2003.

Before one makes an attempt to look at the implications of the ABSU decision to resume its statehood stir, it would be prudent to take a look at published reports of the time when the Bodo student group resolved to put its statehood demand, launched in 1986, in cold storage. An extract from a news report published on February 16, 2003 said: “The (ABSU) conference expressed confidence that the BTC would fulfill the aspirations of the Bodos and the non-tribals. It urged the central and state governments to take all necessary steps for proper implementation of all the clauses of the Accord for the protection of the socio-economic rights of all sections of people living in the area covered by the BTC. Talking to newspersons after the conference, re-elected ABSU president Rabi Ram Narzary said that the outfit would extend all possible help to the BTC for the proper implementation of the accord.” It was clear that the ABSU had faith in the BLT leaders who were set to rule the area at that point in time.

Seven years down the line, the ABSU seems to be bored with things and wants to be at the centre-stage of politics in the Bodo heartland. There can be no better way to do so than hogging the limelight by reviving the statehood demand. The ABSU is free to demand anything but the question is why has the need to revive the demand arisen in the first place. It only goes to suggest that the Bodo leadership that has been in power in the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) since 2003 has not been able to keep things on track. One can find an alternative answer to the question by asking as to whether it was wrong at that point in time to go for a deal with just one of the two (at that time) major insurgent groups in the area. The ABSU has talked about lawlessness and violence among ‘brothers’, meaning obviously the killings and counter-killings of Bodos and other people inhabiting the Bodo heartland in recent months.

Not just the ABSU, even the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), the party formed by the erstwhile BLT rebels which has been ruling the Council since 2003, has demanded the creation of a separate Bodoland state. That was after New Delhi’s signal, albeit confusing, on the creation of the Telengana state. Not to be left behind, the rival Bodoland People’s Progressive Front (BPPF), too, has come up with a similar statehood demand. That means, all the political forces in the Bodo heartland today are pushing for a separate Bodoland state demand, barring the anti-talk faction of the rebel National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-Ranjan Daimary) which is sticking to its demand for an independent Bodo homeland outside India.

Today, governance is at its worst in Assam’s tribal autonomous councils which are run by leaders of the communities concerned and not by some people from Guwahati or Delhi. The ABSU has chosen to accuse the Assam Government of giving the Bodos what it calls ‘a useless state-run university’ and not a central university. My question is why has the elected Council in the area accept such a university in the first place. That means, the elected Council there do not subscribe to the ABSU view that it is a ‘useless state-run university’ after all.

Instead of sowing homeland dreams, outfits like ABSU need to highlight governance issues and keep a close watch on the performance of their community leaders running the autonomous council. If organizations and groups are to revive their original demands a couple of years after seemingly ending their agitation after reaching so-called accords, it would be extremely difficult for the Government to talk peace or go for what are called ‘memorandum of understanding.’ No wonder, cynics are of the view that political aspirations and the lure for power would continue to drive leaders of Assam’s myriad ethnic groups to push with their homeland demands. No one is bothered about the harvest though!