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Union Territory Masterstroke by NDFB (P)

POSTED ON 17 AUGUST 2013

wasbir hussain
executive director,
centre for development and peace studies

Amid the din of the cry for a separate Bodoland state by competing Bodo groups, the NDFB (P) has suddenly come up with a masterstroke. The rebel faction, engaged in peace talks with the Government of India since 23 September 2009, has scaled down its demand, disclosing to the media that it would be satisfied with a union territory status for the Bodo heartland. “Give us a union territory, we will be satisfied,” NDFB (P) General Secretary Govinda Basumatary was quoted as saying in a section of the media.

In fact, the NDFB (P)’s compromise formula, seeking a union territory instead of a state, has not just lent a new twist to the whole Bodo statehood agitation but has the potential to take the wind out of the sails of the various groups seeking a separate Bodoland state. After all, if the current thinking within the State and the Central Government is any indication, a separate Bodoland state is not in the cards at least for some time. In this scenario, the Centre may find it easier to start talking on a solution to Bodo aspirations with the NDFB (P)’s union territory demand as a starting point. Moreover, by scaling down its demand, the NDFB (P), despite being a militant group, has sought to project itself as a reasonable and moderate voice among the Bodos.

Significantly, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), despite being an ally of the ruling Congress in Assam, has upped the ante by joining other groups in seeking a separate Bodoland state. In its battle for political survival, the BPF did not think twice before putting its ally, the Congress, in a spot by seeking Assam’s dismemberment. And to demonstrate that it was serious and meant business, a BPF delegation met the Central Government leaders to formally place their statehood demand.

Although the lead is being taken by the All Bodo Students’ Union which is bent on extracting a separate Bodo state, the group to watch is the Ranjan Daimary faction of the NDFB. Although strange bed fellows may come together in politics, it may be extremely difficult for the NDFB (RD) to side with the BPF and share space in its fight for a separate Bodo state.

As the Bodo groups battle it out to come together to present a united voice, the ruling Congress in Assam is desperately trying to devise a strategy to buy time in a bid to diffuse the situation. Towards that end, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Central leaders and has stressed on the need for dialogue with the statehood seekers, preferably a tripartite dialogue involving the State, Centre and the agitating groups.

In the event of such a dialogue, the NDFB (P)’s demand for a union territory instead of a state may come in handy for the Government negotiators. At the end of the day, the agitation by the Bodo groups may bring in more autonomy to the Bodo heartland, but the turf war among the various Bodo groups may still keep the area on the boil for a long time to come. And in the worst case scenario, local aspirations will emerge in different forms.

For the moment, New Delhi is in a fix because if it invites the Bodo and other groups from Assam for a dialogue, tripartite or otherwise, it will be bombarded with demands by every other statehood seeker in the country for a similar dialogue. Ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, therefore, New Delhi will be kept engaged by the homeland agitations in Assam and elsewhere. (courtesy: The Sentinel)