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Stench of poll politics in fresh Bodoland demand

POSTED ON 29 NOVEMBER 2010

wasbir hussain
director, Centre for Development and Peace Studies

The demand for a separate Bodoland State once again rends the air in Assam. The only thing that is interesting is that the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), supposed to be the strongest ally of the ruling Congress in the State, too, has joined the chorus for a separate State for the Bodos. Three ministers belonging to the BPF, who are members of Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s council of ministers, are party to this demand. The demand was made formally, along with many other Bodo organizations, by BPF leader and chief of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), Hagrama Mahilary, during the Bodo National Convention held last fortnight. Mahilary even predicted that the Bodos would achieve their goal of a separate State within the next ten to fifteen years.

In fact more than the Congress being cornered with this demand being raised by its ally, the BPF, it is the latter that had to swim with the tide in the Bodo heartland with Bodo groups raising this demand at the convention. Hagrama Mahilary & Co has no alternative but to harp on the statehood demand now that the State Assembly polls are round the corner and the pro-talk faction of the NDFB threatening to corner a part of the shrinking political space in the Bodo heartland. The timing is important because the peace process is on, although at a snail’s pace. In fact, more than the pro-talk NDFB faction (that has already given up its independent homeland demand and wants a solution within the Indian Constitutional framework) and other Bodo socio-political groups, it is likely that the BPF will harp on the statehood demand the most.

No prizes for guessing as to why the BPF might decide to shout from rooftops about the need to grant the Bodos a separate State less than ten years after it signed an agreement with the Government that brought them a fair amount of autonomy. The Hagrama Mahilary-led BPF has tasted power in a big way, winning two elections to the Council already and coming to have a big say in the State Government with three of the party’s ministers (out of nine MLAs) holding such ministries as Transport and Panchayat & Rural Development, Agriculture and Welfare of Plains Tribes & Backward Classes, and Public Health Engineering. This is five departments in all. The BPF has managed rather well to arm-twist its bigger ally, the Congress, and has gone to the extent of threatening to put up candidates in seats that the Congress would ideally want to be left to it. Now, the BPF would only want to consolidate its position in the Bodo political arena and what better way to stir the people’s imagination than to raise the pitch with the Bodo statehood demand. Mahilary & Co would do that before others can raise the tempo.

Now, has the Bodo statehood demand put the Congress in a spot? Certainly not. To me, the whole thing looks like a mutually agreed drama — Mahilary would demand the State for he cannot afford not to raise this demand, and the Congress would reject it openly as it cannot obviously afford to do otherwise. This strategy would project Mahilary as a staunch Bodo nationalist, like all of his rivals, and at the same time project the Congress as a party that is strong enough to resist any attempt for Assam’s further dismemberment. So, that suits the cause of both parties, or the two allies, at this crucial poll-eve juncture.

In fact, I dare predict Bodo politics getting more murkier in the days ahead. The BPF has thought it prudent to raise the statehood demand. The pro-talk NDFB wants to get going with the peace process and reach an acceptable solution. If the Government were to give the pro-talk NDFB group a deal that is better than what the then BLT could extract, then the rebel faction’s legitimacy would only go up. With the anti-talk NDFB upping the ante, coming up with an eye-for-an-eye policy, and having already killed 24 civilians, the scene is getting more complicated. If the anti-talk NDFB group is doing this to send out a signal to the government that talking only to the moderate faction will not help restore peace in the Bodo heartland, it would mean the faction is also keen on joining the peace process, least it becomes irrelevant in the overall Bodo politics. Things are hazy to say the least.

(courtesy: The Sentinel)