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Talks for talks sake? Now, truce deal with NDFB (R)

POSTED ON 5 OCTOBER 2013

wasbir hussain
Executive director
, centre for development and peace studies

The North–east desk at the Ministry of Home Affairs is busy with two things at this point in time—finalizing dates and talking points for the next round of meetings with groups agitating for separate states in Assam and elsewhere in the region, and making things ready to sign a ceasefire agreement with the Ranjan Daimary faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB–R). The truce deal is to be inked on October 17.

For the NDFB ( R ), the truce deal that would pave the way for the start of formal negotiations with the Government of India could not have come at a more uncongenial time. This is because mainstream Bodo groups like the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) have already made a head start in taking their Bodoland statehood demand to a new high. Joining these statehood seekers is the Bodo People’s Front (BPF), the party ruling the Bodo Council, which does not want to be left behind and run the risk of being rendered politically irrelevant.

The mandarins at North Block are, of course, more than aware of the challenges in the days ahead. First of all, if they engage in an insincere attempt at buying time to keep the agitations in Assam in abeyance, they will lose credibility. Moreover, such a move could well make the agitations more intense. On the other hand, one cannot expect the MHA, or for that matter the Centre, to concede another state at this juncture when groups from the Darjelling hills to Assam and Nagaland are clamouring for separate small states.

So, what would the Government talk to the NDFB (R) now? Besides, New Delhi is already in an advance stage of talks with the NDFB (Progressive). Can the Government sign two separate agreements with the two NDFB factions? Obviously not. In that case, will the two NDFB factions first come together and possibly then try to narrow their differences and sign a single deal? What could happen to the Bodoland Territorial Council accord of 2003 that has given the area three new districts and a sizeable fund allocation?

I have a simple question—will the two NDFB factions give up their demands if New Delhi were to grant a separate Bodoland state by conceding the demand of the mainstream Bodo groups? The area has far too many players vying for the same political space and that is why the place is expected to turn even more volatile in the days ahead. And then, there is the latest NDFB faction to contend with, the one headed by Songbijit. In order to drive home the message that it is a force to reckon with, the NDFB (Songbijit) has scaled up its violence, ambushing policemen, carrying out high–profile kidnappings like that of the NHPC general manager AK Agarwal, and assassinating leading businessman Adilur Rahman in November last year.

So, will the Government be forced sooner than later to consider talks with the NDFB (Songbijit) faction? If indications from the MHA are to be taken seriously, New Delhi is considering a moratorium on peace talks, at least with newer insurgent groups or breakaway factions. The MHA annual report for 2012–13 stated that though the government is ready to talk with any outfit which is willing to abjure violence, lay down arms and agree to abide by the Indian Constitution, it will not talk to splinter groups of those outfits, if formed in future. But, clarity and firmness is the need of the hour and the Centre must come clear on its stand on future peace talks with insurgent groups, not just state things in the middle of an annual report! (courtesy: The Sentinel)