What Modi’s Bodoland Rally Means For Assam And North East

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Feb 6, 2020 02:00 PM +05:30 IST
What Modi’s Bodoland Rally Means For Assam And North EastPrime Minister Narendra Modi 
  • Here’s why Prime Minister Modi’s rally in Kokrajhar is significant not only for Bodoland and the entire North East, but also for India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address a mega rally in Assam’s Kokrajhar district to celebrate the signing of the Bodo Peace Accord last month between the Union and state governments with all Bodo groups, including the militant National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).

The signing of the accord marks a conclusive end to the 33 years of violence and upheaval in a vast swathe of western Assam that is known as ‘Bodoland’.

The Bodos, a Tibeto-Burmese speaking ethnic indigenous group in Assam, form about 6 per cent of the population of Assam and are concentrated mostly in the western Assam districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalgiri.

The Bodos have been demanding a separate state right from the British days, but the state movement gained momentum after the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985. The influential All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) spearheaded a mass movement demanding a separate state for Bodos be carved out of Assam.

The statehood movement soon turned violent with the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) launching a violent insurgency. The BLT splintered into various factions and some of these named themselves as the NDFB later on.

The NDFB also split into many factions with the NDFB (Songbijit) emerging as the most-dreaded group. The Bodo militants frequently targeted the non-Bodos, including Adivasis and Muslims of Bangladeshi origin settled in ‘Bodoland’.

There have been attempts to usher in peace in the past. But none of them had succeeded in ending insurgency in ‘Bodoland’, that has claimed an estimate 8,000 lives over the last three decades.

The first Bodo Accord was a tripartite agreement signed between the Union and state governments and the ABSU in February 1993. That led to the formation of the semi-autonomous Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC) with limited powers.

But that accord failed to meet the aspirations of the Bodos and insurgency raged on in the region.

A decade later, in February 2003, another agreement was signed between the Union and state governments with the BLT. This accord led to the dissolution of the BLT and formation of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), which was given more financial and administrative powers.

The BTC was the administrative authority of the Bodoland Territorial Area (BTA), a largely autonomous zone within Assam formed after reorganising seven districts into the four contiguous districts of Kokrajhar, Udalgiri, Baksa and Chirang.

The NDFB had agreed to abjure violence after the 2003 accord, but a section of its leadership disagreed and formed another faction— the NDFB(S) — that continued attacks on security forces and other ethnic groups living in the BTA.

The objective of the various Bodo militant groups has been to carry out an ethnic cleansing in order to establish the Bodos as the largest ehtnic group in ‘Bodoland’. The Bodos form about 28 per cent of the population of BTA right now.

And this is precisely why the latest accord holds out enormous hopes of ushering in lasting peace in the region.

The new agreement is a much more broad-based one than the two earlier ones: it has got on board the ABSU, all four factions of the NDFB and the United Bodo Peoples’ Organisation (an umbrella body of various influential Bodo civil society groups).

The January 2020 agreement will pave the way to redraw the boundaries of the BTA, which will be renamed the Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR).

A committee comprising representatives of all Bodo groups will be set up to carry out this task that will meet the aspirations of the Bodos.

There are many Bodo-majority villages outside the BTA, which also includes villages where the Bodos are in a minority. The Bodo-majority villages outside the BTA but contiguous to it will be included in the new BTR while the Bodo-minority villages will be left out of it.

The total area under the control of the new BTR is expected to go up. For those Bodos who will still be left out of the BTR, a Bodo-Kachari Welfare Council targeted at meeting the socio-economic aspirations of this plain’s tribe will be set up.

Bodos living in the hills (outside the BTR) will be granted Hills Scheduled Tribe status — a significant step that will pave the way for reservations in jobs and seats in educational institutions for them.

A number of other measures for the welfare of the Bodos have been declared under the new accord. The Bodo language with its Devanagari script will be an associate official language for entire Assam, a development package of Rs 1,500 crore for welfare projects in the BTR and an attractive rehabilitation package for all Bodo militants has been announced.

The January 2020 accord was signed in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah. While the accord in itself is a path-breaking one, the decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to travel to ‘Bodoland’ to celebrate the accord and lend his full endorsement to it changes the dynamics of the region.

“By traveling to Kokrajhar, the nerve-centre of ‘Bodoland’ to celebrate the accord, Prime Minister Modi is sending the message that the accord has his complete backing. That in itself is a powerful message for the Bodo people. No other prime minister has stood by the Bodos so solidly,” said BTC chief Hagrama Mohilary.

ABSU leader Subir Daimary said that no other senior central leader ever travelled to ‘Bodoland’ to stand beside the Bodos on such a happy occasion. “The Prime Minister of our country being here on this momentous occasion is extremely significant and shows his commitment to make this accord work, which it will,” he said.

More than 4 lakh people are expected to attend Friday’s rally to mark what is being billed as the “final and comprehensive solution” to the Bodo issue.

‘Bodoland’ in western Assam lies just next to the vulnerable and strategically important chicken's neck (or ‘Siliguri corridor’) that connects North East with the rest of India.

A restive Bodoland has enormous security and other ramifications for India. Thus, restoring peace and normalcy in ‘Bodoland’, and winning back the trust of the Bodos, assuming great significance.

The January accord, being broad based and meeting the aspirations of the Bodos, is expected to do just that. Additionally, the presence of the Prime Minister in Kokrajhar to celebrate the accord and give it his ringing endorsement will win the endearment of the Bodos.

That is why Modi’s rally in Kokrajhar is significant not only for Bodoland and the entire North East, but also for India.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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