Exit wounds of a vicious campaign
The gruesome murder of 33 people, mostly Muslims, by Bodo militants in strife-ridden districts of Assam, has once again stirred the proverbial hornet’s nest. The Bodo-Muslim rivalry and resultant conflict is an old one, but has been aggravated by a number of factors, primarily the ‘encroachment’ and land grab by illegal immigrants from Bangladesh entering the northeastern state from the porous riverine stretches of Indo-Bangla border. The problem, festering since 1960s when the Bodos, Assam’s largest tribal group, first pressed for a separate Bodoland, of late, saw major flare ups, one as recently as 2012, when over a hundred Muslims were killed by Bodo extremists. Naturally, even the slightest spark had the potential to set ablaze this heap of highly inflammable regional history, with innocent civilians becoming targets of misguided violence. The widespread clashes between the Bodo tribals and Bengali Muslims living in the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD) in southern Assam have been a political rigmarole, with Bodos objecting to the ceaseless and clandestine influx of poor Muslims from the neighbouring Bangladesh, while the ‘illegals’, after withstanding the ordeal of crossing the border, trying to set up faux refugee colonies inside reserve forests, wildlife sanctuaries and other protected spaces, resorting to poaching and other banned means of making a living. In the last two decades, with illegal immigration reaching an unsustainable level, the battle for economic and socio-political recognition too has become ever more conspicuous, with Bodo mobs ritually threatening, intimidating and at times murdering Muslims, leading to riot-like situations in 1993, 1994, 2008 and 2012. The worst-affected districts – Kokrajhar, Baksa, Chirang and Dhubri – therefore, have been scarred before, nursing stinging wounds of past violence, while fearing fresh outbreak of riots.
While the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government in the state has been unable to hem in the infighting factions of Bodo political groups, particularly the banned National Democratic Front of Bodoland, it has been equally inept at handling the crisis of unbridled illegal immigration. What should have been a case of regulated refuge, with proper checks and counter-checks to eliminate those immigrants with links to terror (banned Jamaat-e-Islami of Bangladesh has used the northeast ‘chicken’s neck’ corridor to smuggle in arms, fake currency and extremists), dwindled, over the decade, into a cesspool of unaccommodated aliens, bitterly resented by majority tribes including Bodos and Santhals. In effect, the settler-native divide in southern Assam, has only been driven to its logical extreme because of the state’s ineffectual governance. Despite the NDA union government’s peace accord with Bodo Liberation Tigers in 2003, which cleared the decks for BTAD and keeping hopes of future Bodoland alive, the ground reality is one of tortured daily clashes and ferocious rivalry over limited resources in the underdeveloped districts. Naturally, Narendra Modi only had to light a tiny fire by putting the blame squarely on Bangladeshi Muslim illegals in order for the spark to instantly turn into an infernal conflagration.