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Is the NDFB-P fond of playing Chinese Checkers?


wasbir Hussain
executive director,
centre for development and peace studies

Nearly four years after engaging in peace talks with the Government, the NDFB (Progressive) or NDFB-P appears to have suddenly developed a fetish for playing Chinese Checkers! This at a time when the group has competition from the NDFB faction headed by Ranjan Daimary who has just come out of jail and has held the first round of ‘formal talks’ with New Delhi’s peace envoy P. C. Haldar.

The NDFB suffered a split in the wake of the detestable 2008 serial blasts that killed around 100 people with the group expelling Ranjan Daimary following charges by the police that he had a hand in the terror attack. When the pro-talk NDFB faction, later named NDFB-P, started talks with the Government in 2008, it had stuck to its demand for a sovereign Bodo homeland. Later, in 2009, the group submitted its demands in writing to the Government saying it was ready to work out an acceptable solution within the ambit of the Indian Constitution.

So, what triggered the NDFB-P’s funny idea that ‘it would be better for the Boro and other tribal people of Northeast India to be a part of the Special Administrative Regions (SAR) within the Sovereignty of the People’s Republic of China?’ Yes, the NDFB-P did say this in a press release issued on July 13, signed by its publicity chief S. Sanjarang. Well, it was a response by the group to the reported remarks by Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde before a Congress delegation from the region that the Centre was keen on providing more powers to the autonomous councils set up under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.

The NDFB-P maintains that the ‘economic autonomy’ given to the autonomous councils under the Sixth Schedule was not enough to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of the Bodos. In the press release, the group says both the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) Accord of 2003 and the Bodoland Autonomous Council deal of 1993 were aimed at providing ‘economic solution’ to the Bodos and not ‘political solution.’ The NDFB-P is pushing for a ‘full-fledged political autonomy to the Boro and other indigenous tribal peoples living within Boroland.’ The press release added: ‘The Boro people’s movement was for asserting the political right. Historically, they were independent, so they want to be ruled by themselves without interference of others.’

What is more than clear now is that the NDFB-P is pressing for a separate state for the Bodos and have indicated in no uncertain terms that it would not agree to a deal that gives the people in the area just more autonomy, in addition to what has already been granted through the BTC Accord. But in doing so, the NDFB-P has demonstrated its secessionist tendencies by talking of how, if political autonomy was not granted by New Delhi, it would be better for the Bodos to live under Chinese suzerainty.

That the NDFB-P has even decided to issue such a threat, although no one can take it seriously, means that New Delhi will now have to be clear in telling rebel groups with whom it is engaged in peace talks as to the maximum it can concede in its bid to resolve problems. The NDFB-P position also means that the Bodo statehood demand is back on centre stage, a demand that New Delhi will now have to deal with. What has already happened in the Bodo heartland is that all the other Bodo groups have closed ranks with each other in so far as the statehood demand is concerned. The Bodoland People’s Front, the party formed after its leaders signed the BTC Accord in 2003, too has joined the rest in supporting the Bodo statehood demand. No prizes for guessing that it is a survival issue. No political party or group who do not support the statehood demand can hope to retain its relevance in Bodo politics at this juncture.

The moral of the story is that ethnic aspirations can have no limits and the Government, therefore, must firm up a policy of dealing with such aspirations. It has now become crystal clear that an accord with a certain group claiming to represent a community is not the end of the story because other groups would always be there to pick up from whether the one that has signed a deal has left. In this backdrop, one has no option but to consider suggestions by many that autonomy should not be on ethnic lines but should be granted region-wise, meaning regional autonomy. But, this is easier said than done in the ethnic minefield that is the Northeast! (courtesy: The Sentinel)