BJP’s latest ‘Bodo Accord’ may not net them the expected political gains in Assam
Late last month, the Centre signed yet another peace accord with several militant groups in Assam. Among these is the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), the Rabha National Liberation Front (RNLF), Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) and the National Liberation Front of Bengalis (NLFB). Most of these were paper organisations with very little strength to create trouble. It was also announced with a good deal of fanfare that 644 militants had surrendered at Guwahati. Reports suggest that almost all of them had surrendered to the security forces much earlier. The whole thing was dressed up as a recent incident. It was not.
The Centre had earlier signed two accords with Bodo militants. The first one was in 1993 when the Bodo Autonomous Council (BAC) was created. The second was in 2003 when the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) was formed at a public function at Kokrajhar in the presence of the then Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani. Some more areas were added to the original BAC and its powers were increased. Since then, Bodoland has, by and large, been a peaceful area. Why then did the Centre feel it necessary to sign yet another peace accord, rename it as Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR), raise its membership to 60, add more areas to it and give it more executive and legislative powers?
Here come BJP's political stakes in Assam. After the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act which will give citizenship to those who migrated to Assam from Bangladesh till December 2014 and the decision to draw up a fresh National Register of Citizens (NRC), the Brahmaputra Valley of Assam has been boiling. The Assamese-speaking people, the largest group that inhabits the Valley, see in CAA and NRC a sinister conspiracy to eventually reduce them to a minority in their own land. This feeling is shared by the neighbouring states of Assam also but the fear is not so strong as in Assam.
The anger of the Assamese people against the Centre and BJP has reached a level that the defeat of the BJP in the coming Assembly elections next year, seems inevitable. So the BJP is desperately seeking to win over other ethnic groups to neutralise the loss of the electoral support of the Assamese people. Hence, the urge to draw the Bodos closer to the BJP and make peace with those rebel groups who have little mischief-making potential but formally persuade them to join the 'national mainstream'. This will have some propaganda value besides giving the Bodos more powers to rule their areas.
Here an important thing has to be borne in mind. The Bodos constitute only 5.3 per cent of the population in Assam. The Bodo population now is estimated at 1.2 million. They are a small minority in the area which was first BAC, then BTC and now has become BTR. The non-Bodos far outnumber the Bodos. That is why Kokrajhar, which is the administrative Centre of BTR or de facto capital, has been returning a non-Bodo to Parliament, Naba Kumar Sarania, since 2014. How then did such a minuscule minority succeed in creating a virtual State for itself? The blunt answer is, simply by using the gun.
Bodo militancy began in 1986 with the forming of the armed rebel group Bodo Security Force or BSF (not to be confused with the government's Border Security Force with the same initials). The militancy began because the Bodo youth became thoroughly disillusioned with the leaders of the moderate Plains Tribals Council of Assam (PTCA). The leaders of the PTCA discredited themselves with the younger generation of Bodos by indulging in corrupt activities after they were elected to the State Assembly and Lok Sabha. Some of them became ministers in Assam and they used (or misused) their power to line their own pockets and acquire property.
There were several splits in the ranks of the armed militants. Several rebel groups came up but all of them indulged in violence. Their demand was the creation of a separate Bodo state to be carved out of Assam even though they were a small minority. Law and order became a big issue in the Bodo areas. The Bodo militants caused several bomb blasts right in the heart of the Guwahati city, killing many people. The government of the day at the Centre thought it prudent to make peace with them and wean them away from the path of violence by creating the Bodoland Autonomous Council. Incidentally, no elections were ever held in the BAC. But that is another story.
Despite the creation of the BAC, the Bodos never gave up on their demand for a full-fledged separate Bodo State and splinter rebel groups continued to use the gun and disturb the peace. Occasionally, rival rebel groups would fight one another. The net effect was a volatile situation in which stable peace was not possible. So, little by little, more power was given to the Bodos to keep them happy, short of giving them a separate state and making another vivisection of Assam to which the Assamese-speaking people remain dead opposed.
But the imperatives of the present political situation have forced the BJP to give another dose of executive and legislative powers to the Bodos to keep them in good humour. Hence the latest accord. But the rationality of the Centre's decision can be questioned. Can 5.3 per cent of the people of a State compensate for the alienation of the Assamese-speaking people of the Brahmaputra Valley who constitute about 33 per cent of the total population? Well, desperate situations demand counter-measures that may not be rationally explained.
Views expressed are strictly personal