PROMISES TO INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES MAY WEAKEN MILITANCY
At a time when the country is witnessing a strong polarisation between left and right ideologies “whether India is marching towards Fascism” — some significant developments are taking place in the Northeast. One is the crucial tripartite Bodo Accord signed by the Centre with the Assam government and various Bodo groups, including the four factions of National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). NDFB was a Bodo militant organisation which in the course of time further split into four factions due to differences within themselves regarding the fight for a separate Bodoland from Assam. Not to forget that the anti-CAA protests initially began from the Northeast, particularly Assam.
The Accord aims for a permanent solution to the Bodo issue. Actually, this is the third Bodo agreement to date with the first being signed in 1993 and the second one in 2003. Whether this one is a permanent solution or not — its significance cannot be denied.
The state of Assam has a violent history of militancy. Over the time, militant activities reduced in the state with a faction of the major militant group United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) abandoning their fight for “sovereign Assam” bringing more stability in the state. Now with factions of NDFB giving up their arms, restoration of tranquillity in the state has received another shot of arm.
As a result of the accord, more than 1,600 militants have surrendered and Bodos will get more autonomy with renaming of Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) to Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). Also, the new council will have 60 seats, an increment of 20 seats, and some extension of the area, followed by economical packages.
First, as mentioned above, Assam has been witnessing protests against the CAA — but their reasons are completely different from other protests of India led by a section of Indian liberals and students, mostly leftists or some having left inclinations, and also by a large section of Muslims. The latter’s agitations are due to the exclusion of Muslims immigrants from CAA. On the other hand, Assamese are against any type of further settlements of Bangladeshi immigrants in the state — it doesn’t matter whether they are Hindus or Muslims.
Assam is a very crucial state in the northeast region. Politically, the state was identified as a stronghold of the Congress — if one separates the two full time governments of the regional party, Assam Gana Parishad (AGP). Also, the northeast was regarded as a favourable belt of Congress. But, in 2016, BJP for the first time formed the government in Assam and by the end of 2018, the region became Congress free. It can be said that the national party which rules Assam more or less becomes a favourable party in the other parts of the northeast too.
Importantly, peace deals find a significant place in Assam’s society and politics. Take the 2011 state assembly elections when there were strong opinions against incumbent Tarun Gogoi led Congress government losing the polls due to wide allegations of the dispensation being corrupt. But, the grand old party managed to return back to power for the third time in a row leaving many political analysts scratching their heads. And one of the major reasons was the ongoing peaceful efforts of the then Congress led UPA government at the Centre and Tarun Gogoi led state government with the top leaders of ULFA — which resulted in earning the goodwill of the Assamese community and Congress party eventually getting another mandate. Later too, a peace deal was successfully signed with the ULFA leadership — although a faction of ULFA continues to carry the dream flag of “sovereign Assam”.
Now, just look at the current scenario. BJP is accused of undermining Assamese demands by allowing the Hindu Bangladeshi immigrants by giving them citizenship through CAA and state elections are also not far away with only one and a half years left. At such a crucial juncture, comes the Bodo agreement out of the joint efforts of BJP led Union and state governments to strike a peaceful deal with the Bodos — bringing all four factions of NDFB militants to the mainstream. The Bodos will now no longer demand a separate Bodoland from Assam — a development which will also be appreciated by the majority Assamese community.
As a result, this accord has put BJP one step ahead in Assam. The saffron party, which has been trying to put its arguments in the forefront that it will safeguard the interests of Assam and its indigenous communities at the backdrop of the anti-CAA protests, will now have the Bodo pact in its quiver to push its own arguments in front of the majority Assamese community. Not only this, demand for separate Bodoland has many times disturbed the Kokrajhar district, otherwise known as Bodo heartland. Importantly, Kokrajhar is strategically vital as it connects the northeast with the rest of India. So, one can understand the importance of this accord that brings peace to violent torn Kokrajhar district — which may not only benefit the BJP in the upcoming assembly polls in Assam but also in other north-eastern states, as it will help in resurrection of BJP’s image as “a friend of the entire Northeast”.