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Jolt to Bodo Peace Talk with Fresh NDFB Split


wasbir hussain
director, centre for development and peace studies

The daylight assassination of the young tea planter and hotelier Adilur Rahman near Sootea in Sonitpur district on 12 November has once again demonstrated that militants can strike at will, despite claims by the State of an improvement in law and order. The Assam Police have been quick to say the anti-talk NDFB faction was most likely behind the killing of the 47-year-old Rahman, who was a known philanthropist.

Several uncomfortable questions have cropped up---if the anti-talk NDFB faction goes about killing people, is there really any point in talking peace with them? After all, former Intelligence Bureau Director, Mr P. C. Haldar, a fine interlocutor assigned with the job by the Centre, has been moving in and out of Guwahati, meeting NDFB’s imprisioned chairman Ranjan Daimary in the Guwahati Jail premises.

It must be noted here that the NDFB faction headed by Ranjan Daimary has strongly denied its involvement in the planter’s murder, saying a ‘third force’ could be working overtime to derail the peace process that the group has embarked upon by engaging in talks with New Delhi’s interlocuters. If the Daimary faction is now talking to the Government of India, it can also be bracketed as another pro-talk NDFB group.

There is another dimension to the story: if sources in the Assam Police are to be believed, NDFB’s Army commander I.K. Songbijit, said to be operating from Myanmar, had ordered the attack on the planter, who owns two tea estates on the border with Arunachal Pradesh, Mahaluxmi and Tezalpatty. Songbijit’s diktat, according to the police, was executed on the ground by his ‘area commander’ Boko. It seemed that Songbijit was acting on his own without taking any orders from his jailed chairman. Doubts rose whether the Daimary-led NDFB faction, too, has split into two groups, one headed by Daimary himself, who wants to formalize the peace talks, and the other led by Songbijit.

On 19 November, the doubts were cleared. Formalizing the split in the NDFB, IK Sangbijit named a new “interim council” to lead the group’s campaign for an independent Northeast. The group is a part of the joint forum of Northeast militant outfits whose objective is sovereignty of the region. Now, if we are to talk about any anti-talk NDFB faction, we are supposed to be only talking about the group headed by Sangbijit.

Reports have been doing the rounds for quite sometime now that Songbijit was not too keen with Daimary’s decision to join the peace talks, and that the rift between the duo has only widened, something that has been now confirmed by the split. It is also being said that Daimary has been trying to clip Songbijit’s wings by restructuring his faction’s top hierarchy. In fact, Daimary is said to have promoted quite a few junior cadres to senior position within his outfit, a development that has apparently not been taken kindly by Songbijit.

The recent murderous attack on the planter was meant to be a clear signal by Songbijit that he was on his own and was not willing to join the peace process just yet. The latest turn of events is expected to impact the Ranjan Daimary-led faction the most. The faction headed by Govinda Basumatary is already engaged in formal dialogue with the Government and has come to be called the pro-talk NDFB group.

Now, Daimary and his group have already been charge-sheeted by the CBI for their alleged direct involvement in the October 30, 2008 serial blasts in Assam that had killed 100 innocent people. In this backdrop, Daimary will be more than willing to push ahead with the peace process. The challenge before the Government, particularly New Delhi’s interlocutor, Mr Haldar, will be to make sure the talks with the Daimari faction becomes a composite dialogue where leaders like Songbijit are also participating.

This is going to be easier said than done. After all, the anti-talk ULFA faction headed by the elusive Paresh Baruah is said to be cobbling up various Northeast rebel groups into a cohesive fighting unit, and the NDFB fighters led by Songbijit are among them. Things are murky to say the least and New Delhi is already believed to be rethinking on its strategy in so far as the peace talks with the NDFB are concerned. After all, there can be only one peace deal with the NDFB and not separate agreements with separate factions of the outfit. Challenges for the Government have only been compounded.