Assam poll 2016: BPF on shaky turf as Congress picks UPP as new partner in Bodo heartland - Firstpost

Assam poll 2016: BPF on shaky turf as Congress picks UPP as new partner in Bodo heartland

By Sushanta Talukdar

In 2006, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) with 11 seats emerged as the kingmaker when the Congress fell short of the magic number 64 in 126-member Assam Assembly and won 53 seats against 71 in 2001. BPF desperately wants to play the kingmaker’s role again this time but it wants the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)to wear the crown and not the Congress.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. AFP

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. AFP

The Bodo political party controls the Bodoland Territorial Council, an administrative set up under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution which is vested with territorial autonomy for governance in 40 subjects barring Home and Police, in Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) comprising four lower Assam districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri. The BTAD covers 12 assembly seats and also partially includes areas under four adjoining assembly constituencies.

In 2011, the BPF lost the opportunity to play the role of a kingmaker despite increase in its tally by one seat as the Congress had 14 seats more than the magic number. Tarun Gogoi, however, chose to continue the alliance and inducted a minister from the BPF. The BPF snapped its eight-year long ties with the Congress in the aftermath of 2014 Lok Sabha polls when the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government was grappling with dissidence by some legislators of the ruling party. Former health and education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who led the Congress dissident and later joined the BJP with nine of his followers, played the key role in forging a pre-poll tie up between the BJP and BPF. However, the pre-poll tie-up has not gone down well with a section of the BJP rank and file in BTAD and some BJP leaders have already quit in protest.

However, new political equations in BTAD threatens to shatter BPF chief Hagrama Mohilary’s dream of becoming a kingmaker. The Congress has clinched a pre-poll tie-up with the former Rajya Sabha member Urkhao Gwra Brahma-led new Bodo political party United People’s Party (UPP) to put spanner in BPF wheels. The Congress will support UPP in four constituencies in BTAD in lieu of support from the Bodo political party outside BTAD areas.

Apart from the BJP-BPF and Congress-UPP combinations, two other key players in BTAD are All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) -- the principal opposition party in Assam Assembly with 18 legislators and three of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the state and the Sanmilita Jangosthiya Aikyamancha(SJA)—a conglomerate of 23 non-Bodo organisations, including those representing linguistic and religious minorities—which won the Kokrajhar Lok Sabha seat in 2014 polls. AIUDF won four seats in 2015 BTC polls while the BJP won one seat.

The UPP is pinning hopes on erosion in BPF’s support base in 2014 Lok Sabha polls and 2015 elections to the tribal autonomous council. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Brahma polled more votes than the BPF candidate. In 2015 BTC polls, the BPF managed to win only 20 seats in 46-member BTC (40 elected and six nominated). The All Bodo Students’ Union-backed People's Co-ordination for Democratic Rights (PCDR), which floated the UPP on August 5, 2015, won seven seats of the BTC and its candidates lost by close margins in several seats. The BPF swept the 2010 BTC polls with 31 seats.

The new political equations can be seen as a fallout of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and 2015 BTC polls. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls a non-Bodo candidate—a former ‘commander’ of the insurgent United Liberation Front of Asom—Naba Sarania—was elected for first time in the electoral history of Kokrajhar Lok Sabha constituency which covers the BTAD and nearby areas and is reserved for the Scheduled Tribe.

Sarania won by huge margin of 3,55,779 votes by defeating his nearest rival Urkhao Gwra Brahma benefitting from a sharp polarisation of votes as Bodos and non-Bodos. Brahma secured 3,04,899 votes to push the BPF candidate Chandan Brahma to the third position with 2,43,759 votes. Of 15,06,212 voters of Lok Sabha constituency, the Bodos account for about six lakh votes and about four lakh Muslim voters, majority of them of erstwhile East Bengal origin who speak Bengali dialect and Assamese, constitute the second largest group. Koch-Rajbongshis and Adivasis are two other major population groups.

Peace continued to be fragile in BTAD and adjoining areas as violent clashes between factions of different communities over land, resources and political space kept the region on the boil over the past five years widening the existing faultlines and also exposing new faultline of breakdown of interdependence among various communities for agriculture and other activities. In 2012 violent clashes between factions of the Bodos and Muslims of erstwhile East Bengal origin claimed 103 lives and led to displacement of 4.85 lakh people in BTAD and adjoining districts. In May 2014, 46 Muslims of erstwhile East Bengal origin were killed in terror attacks by armed militants on twin villages of Nanke-Khagrabari and Naryanaguri in Baksa district. In 2015 violence revisited BTAD when militants National Democratic Front of Boroland (Songbijit faction)’s terror attacks on Adivasi villages claimed 80 lives (68 adviasis killed by militants and about 12 Bodos killed in retaliatory attacks on Bodo villages) and led to displacement of thousands of families belonging to both the communities.

New political equations in the back drop of such a fragile demographic set up have thrown up new electoral possibilities in BTAD. The BPF, no doubt, faces a daunting task to keep the dream alive.

The author is Editor, Views are personal.

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