The Union government on Monday signed a historic accord with the dreaded insurgent group National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) and two other outfits to end a protracted and bloody struggle for secession from Assam and to bring permanent peace to the Bodo-dominated areas of the state.
The signing of the accord officially ended the demand for a separate state or Union Territory for Bodo people since 1972, while granting the Bodo people political and economic benefits while remaining part of the state of Assam.
The deal was signed in the presence of Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi. Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, state minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the home ministry’s joint secretary, Satyendra Garg, and the top leadership of all four factions of the NDFB and the All Bodo Students' Union (ABSU) — which has been spearheading a movement for a Bodoland state since 1972 — and the United Bodo People's Organisation were also , among others, were present.
What is Bodo peace agreement?
The freshly signed Bodo accord, the third in 27 years, promises political empowerment of Bodo people and mainstreaming of their leaders who picked up arms for their struggle, without acceding to their long-standing demand of a separate Bodoland. The key provisions of the accord cover three main aspects of the Bodo people's demand. Clemency and mainstreaming of people who were involved in violent agitation, greater autonomy and economic development of Bodo people, and preservation of Bodo language and culture.
For the mainstreaming of cadres of the thus deemed terrorist organisations, the accord states that 1,550 militants belonging to the NDFB will lay down their arms on 30 January. Around 1,550 cadres of NDFB(P), NDFB(RD) and NDFB(S) will be rehabilitated by the Central and state governments. The state government will give Rs 5 lakh each to the next of kin of those who lost their lives during the agitation for a separate state. Criminal cases with non-heinous charges against NDFB members will be withdrawn while heinous cases will be reviewed on a case-to-case basis as per the existing rules, according to the pact.
The accord also promises equal share in development to the Bodo people. According to the pact, an economic programme of Rs 1,500 crore will be implemented for the development of Bodo areas in the next three years with equal contribution of Rs 750 crore each from the Central and state governments.
The funds would be used to set up industry and employment package and promote eco-tourism. Under the socio-cultural package, the government will set up a Central University in name of Upendranath Brahma and a national sports university. The other projects will include a regional medical institute, hotel management campus, a Mother Dairy plant, a National Institute of Technology and more Navodaya Vidyalayas, NDTV reported.
Furthermore, the existing structure of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) will be strengthened with more powers and its seats will be expanded from 40 to 60. BTC is an autonomous district council for the Bodoland region of Assam. A commission will be set up for inclusion of Bodo-dominated villages in the BTC and exclusion of those where Bodos are not in majority.
The agreement also states that the name of BTAD will be changed to Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) and it will have more executive, administrative, legislative and financial powers. The BTC currently has control over 30 subjects such as education, forests, horticulture but no jurisdiction over the police, revenue and general administration departments, which are controlled by the Assam government. The BTC was formed under the 6th Schedule of the Constitution.
The Assam government will soon notify Bodo language as in Devanagari script as an associate official language of the state.
Who are the Bodos?
The Bodos are an ethnolinguistic group who believe they are the earliest inhabitants of the Brahmaputra Valley and present-day Assam. They are one of the Indo-Mongoloid tribal communities belonging to the Tibeto-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibetan family. Bodos predominantly inhabit the northwestern part of Assam along the foothills of the Himalayas, namely, in places like Kokrajhar, Udalguri, Chirang, Baksa, Darrang, Sonitpur, Kamrup, Nalbari, Barpeta, and Dhubri.
According to a research paper published in International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, the Bodos have contributed significantly towards the growth and development of the composite Assamese culture and society. However, with the passage of time, the Bodos started feeling threatened in their own homeland as they fell behind the dominant Assamese population in terms of socio-economic, and cultural identity.
What is the Bodo movement?
The demand for a separate state for the Bodos has been going on in Assam for about five decades by several Bodo overground and militant groups, leading to deaths of nearly 4,000 people over the years.
The Bodo movement is seeded in the colonial era when Britishers apparently encouraged a flux of immigrants from the densely populated bordering districts of Bengal to the sparsely populated districts of the Brahmaputra Valley in order to undertake development and cultivation of wastelands. However, this lead to a feeling of isolation in the native Bodo population and ultimately the dissatisfaction peaked and took the face of an armed movement to protect the identity and land of the tribal population.
The leaders of the Bodo Movement emphasised that the Bodo people are ethnically different from rest of the people of present-day Assam and hence entitled to a separate state-Bodoland.
The Bodos first mobilised their numbers for their demands for the first time in 1923 when the community approached the Indian Statutory Commission demanding political power. Subsequently, the All Assam Plains Tribal League (AAPTL) was formed in 1933 with the objective to protect Bodo identity and demand for separate electorate system, and reservation of five seats for greater electoral participation, according to a research paper Bodoland Movement in Assam by Rumi Roy.
However, the wedge between plain tribes and the immigrant population was driven further deep when the Bodo people felt they didn't get adequate representation when Assam was negotiating a deal to accede to Independent India.
The introduction of the official language bill on 10 October, 1960 which tried to enforce the use of Assamese as the official language by the state government, the decision to impose Assamese language as the sole medium of instruction in university and secondary levels of education in 1972, and the movement by All Assam Students' Union, to persuade the government to scrap the reservation enjoyed by the tribal students were other factors that heightened the feeling of resentment and isolation in the Bodos.
The ensuing bloody movement stretched over five decades and cost the lives of over 4,000 people. The government tried thrice to sign a pact to end the insurgency but the agreements failed to deliver lasting peace.
The first accord was signed with the All Bodo Students' Union in 1993, leading to the creation of a Bodoland Autonomous Council with limited political powers. However, as an article in Outlook — published during a bloody wave of clashes between Bodos and Muslims settlers in 2012, pointed out — the accord failed as it failed to factor in several nuances like Bodos weren't the only dominant tribe in Assam and other minorities too were residents of those areas.
The article states, "The Accord was a non-starter because it stipulated that all villages with a 50 percent Bodo population would come under the jurisdiction of a newly created Bodo Council. This flawed clause was enough to lead a section of people in the area to target Muslim settlers and the Adivasis (Santhal tribe), where their majorities were slim. After all, Bodo minority villages could turn into Bodo majority villages if the other communities could be ousted."
In 2003, the second accord was signed with the militant group Bodo Liberation Tigers, leading to formation of a Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) with four districts of Assam — Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baska and Udalguri — called Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD). However, this too failed amid rising discontent from non-Bodo residents of the BTAD areas, who account for nearly two-thirds of BTAD's population. Furthermore, differences between extremist and militant wings of Bodo groups were also a primary reason why this peace accord also did not hold for long.
Even though the signatories of the accord gave up the demand for a separate state on promise of greater autonomy, All Bodo Students’ Union and a few affiliate groups kept the statehood demand alive, maintaining that the current arrangement was inadequate. Meanwhile, the militant-turned-politicians of the Bodo People’s Front were less than willing to reach out to ABSU or share power with them.
This time the agreement promises further autonomy and a meaty economic package for development. Other promises regarding recognition of Bodo language were already present in the 2003 accord and were implemented much before. However, analysts fear that the latest settlement repeats a mistake of the previous two agreements, of not including the sizeable non-Bodo population of the area, who, in fact, together form a majority in the Bodoland Regional Council and have suffered tremendously in the years of violence unleashed by Bodo militants. The Bodos only account for around 30 percent of the total population in this area.
Primarily Bengali Muslims, whose roots can be traced to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and tribal communities like Santhals and Koch-Rajbongshis were at the receiving end of the Bodoland movement. According to some estimates, in the four major riots between 1993 and 1998 between Bodos and Muslims of Bengali origin, an estimated 400 people have been killed and over 4,00,000 were displaced.
"It doesn't overcome the basic contradiction of the earlier Bodo accords which has been responsible for successive episodes of ethnic violence in that region: that non-Bodos constitute a majority in many of those areas. Not recognising them as stakeholders means that like previous accords, it too can’t be the basis for a durable peace," political scientist Sanjib Baruah told The Scroll.
According to PTI, hours after the agreement was signed, various non-Bodo organisations called for a 12-hour bandh on Monday in protest against the Centre's move, bringing life to a standstill in the four districts under the BTC. Official sources told PTI that normal life has been affected in Kokrajhar, Baksa, Chirang and Udalguri districts but the bandh did not have any impact in other areas of the state.
The bandh has been called by various organisations including the All Koch Rajbongshi Students' Union (AKRSU), All Bodo Minority Students' Union (ABMSU), All Adivasi Students' Union, Oboro Suraksha Samiti, Kalita Janagoshti Students' Union among others. The non-Bodo organisations are demanding that all non-Bodo stakeholders residing in the Bodoland Territorial Administrative Districts (BTAD) and the banned Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) should have been included in the peace talks and made signatories to the accord.
With inputs from PTI
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Updated Date: Jan 28, 2020 14:14:37 IST