BODO ACCORD: A RAY OF HOPE OR ROAD TO CONFLICTING FUTURE

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The Ministry of Home Affairs, Assam government and Bodo groups including the All Bodo Students’ Union and militant outfits signed an agreement on January 27, this year. This is New Delhi’s third attempt at conflict resolution after the 1993 and 2003 accords with the Bodos. The new deal offers more hope than the earlier accords as National Democratic Front of Boroland that had stayed away from earlier agreements are now on board. Northeast Today reports on the recent development from the ground

 

January 27 was a day for which entire Assam was waiting  for months and years. It was the day when after years of hectic negotiations, the third Bodo accord was to be signed. None was aware about the contents of the Accord and almost no one had any idea about the possible contents in the accord.

In a much publicized event, the third Bodo accord was signed with the agenda– to bring peace and stability in the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) region. The region has witnessed insurgency and violence for over 4 decades, and the issue was compounded by the existence of several militant groups and also the demand for a separate Bodoland state. However this time all the  groups came to the table and signed the third Bodo Accord.

After the implementation of the Accord, the BTAD region will be now known as Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR).

This accord was signed between the government and all the fractions of National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) and United Bodo People’s Organization (UBPO).

The other faction of the NDFB, led by I K Songbijit, who was expelled from the group, is not a signatory to this pact. The NDFB (S) has been involved in several incidents in Assam, including the December 2014 Assam violence, where  76 people  were killed. This was followed by an extension on the ban imposed on the outfit by the government   for five years  i.e., until 2019.

Over 1,615 cadres of different factions of the NDFB surrendered their arms and joined the mainstream within two days of the signing of the agreement.

Several Bodo groups led by the (ABSU) have been demanding a separate land for the ethnic community since 1972, a movement that has claimed nearly 4,000 lives.

The memorandum of settlement says that the criminal cases registered against the members of the NDFB factions for “non-heinous” crimes shall be withdrawn by the Assam government and in cases of heinous crimes it should  be reviewed. Civilians numbering 2,823,  239 security personnel and 939 Bodo cadres have been killed so far.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah said that the families of those killed during the Bodo movement would get Rs. 5 lakh each as compensation. “Final and comprehensive solution to their demands has been made, while retaining the territorial integrity of Assam. After the agreement, the NDFB factions will leave the path of violence, surrender their weapons and disband their armed organisations within a month of signing the deal.  A Special Development Package of Rs. 1500 Crore would be given by the Centre to undertake specific projects for the development of Bodo areas,” he added.

This was the third Boro accord, and the government is hopeful that this will bring lasting peace and stability to the region, along with  development and prosperity.

Post signing of the Accord, Senior BJP leader and Assam Finance minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma told media that, “A committee will decide the exclusion and inclusion of new areas in the BTAD. Subsequent to this alteration, the total number of Assembly seats will go up to 60, from the existing 40. In this committee, both the representatives of the ABSU as well as the present BTC will be present. Bodo with Devnagri script would be the associate official language for the entire Assam”.

The third Bodo accord was signed in the wake of a movement for a separate Bodoland. The movement called for protests which claimed hundreds of lives, destruction of public and private properties.

The first Bodo accord was signed with the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) in 1993, leading to creation of a Bodoland Autonomous Council with limited political powers.

In 2003, the second Bodo accord was signed with the militant group Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), leading to formation of a Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) with four districts of Assam — Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baska and Udalguri — called the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD).

The BTC was formed under the 6th Schedule of the Constitution by amending the same.  Though BTC is not a full-fledged state, it enjoyed control and power over most of the department like a state. The BTC has control over 30 departments  like education, forests, horticulture but no jurisdiction on the police, revenue and general administration departments, which are controlled by the Assam government.

The demand for a separate state for the Bodos has been going on in Assam for about five decades and several Bodo overground and militant groups have been raising this issue which further lead  to agitations, protests, violence and many deaths.

Now the government—both the state and the central government are hopeful for peace and development in the region. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself attended a meeting at Kokrajhar on February 7, which was held to celebrate the signing of the accord.

In the rally, Modi termed the Accord as a historic agreement, and even said that this will end the insurgency in the region that has been raging on for decades and had claimed thousands of lives.  He further added that past governments were reluctant in addressing the problems.

Speaking about the Bodo Accord, PM Modi said, “Today is the day to acknowledge the support of all young people belonging to the (ABSU), (NDFB), BTC Chief Hagrama Mohilary and the Assam government, who played a very positive role for this agreement.”

Entire BTAD region is euphoric as they see the new accord as a light of hope and peace. Speaking to NET, Pramod Boro, former (ABSU) president and one of the signatory of the accord said that the third Bodo accord is very inclusive and it has everything to bring peace and development in the region.

“We want protection of our language, tradition and culture, and at the same time we want development in the region—this accord has taken everything into count, and we are confident that all the issues will be addressed this time,” said Boro.

Boro has been spearheading the influential ABSU for a permanent solution to the problems in the BTAD region, and after the signing of the accord, he said that if implemented properly, all the concerns of all the groups and communities living in the BTAD region will be addressed.

On being asked how he was so confident that it will bring about lasting peace and development, Boro said that, all the insurgent groups have come forward and signed the accord.

“All the groups which were active have shunned violence and have come forward to be a part in the development of the BTAD region, and this is very important for maintaining peace. Now there will be no more violence and people will be able to live in peace and without fear,” added Boro.

Boro also said that there can never be peace and development when there is an armed struggle going on, as everyone fears for their lives.

“Now there is no armed group in the region, and every group has come ahead to the mainstream to ensure peace and development in the region. So now there are no issues at all,” said Boro.

Citing an example, Boro said that, in the fear of violence –none wanted to set up a business in the BTAD region and everyone had to live in fear. But he said that now everything will change for good.

“The region and the people living here-irrespective of caste, community and religion have suffered immensely over the years and have seen many deaths. This must stop now, and we are confident of seeing a positive change from here on,” said Boro.NET also spoke to UG Brahma, former Rajya Sabha member and leader of the UPP (L), and he also said that unlike the earlier two Bodo accord, the third accord is very inclusive and takes into account all the important issues.

The ABSU also immediately announced an indefinite suspension of their demand for a separate state of Bodoland.

The signatories of the accord, which include leaders of the three armed factions of the NDFB, said they want to get absorbed in the political process in the region.

Govinda Basumatary, president of NDFB (Progressive)  alleged that despite the two previous Bodo accords that paved the way for the autonomy of Bodoland, powers have been centralized in the hands of a few who have been running the BTC since its creation

However the clauses under the accord has been questioned  by Kokrajhar Lok Sabha MP Naba Sarania. Sarania has been critical about the clause where it mentions about setting up a commission to examine and recommend on the demands of exclusion of villages, currently under Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD), which are contiguous to non-Sixth Schedule areas and have a majority of non-tribal population.

The MP pointed out that, this way, hardly 15-20 villages with non-Bodo majority will have the option to opt out of BTAD, but questioned what will happen to non-Bodo majority areas which are typically inside the BTAD and not contiguous to non-Sixth Schedule areas.

Sarania also questioned the government’s decision to pay compensation to some 4,000 families killed during the Bodoland movement. “The BTAD had witnessed the killing of many others in violent activities by pro-Bodoland outfits. Lakhs were displaced and evicted illegally. What about them?”

On being asked about the Accord, Sarania said that it must be ensured that the accord doesn’t cause turmoil in the BTAD.

The Road Ahead

The developments calls for a major political shift in the BTAD, as the signatories of the Accord are planning to take part in active politics soon and will also be contesting the BTC council elections slated to be held in April this year.

Speaking to NET, UG Brahma, said that all the signatories and the groups which are part of the peace process and wants to take part in the upcoming elections in the BTAD will be joining the UPP (L), and also expressed confidence that the UPP (L) will come to power in the next council election.

On being asked how much of a factor will be present Lok sabha MP from Kokrajhar be, Brahma said that MP Sarania’s influence is limited to just a few seats in the council and so he will not be a factor at all in the election.

 

Pramod Boro also expressed confidence and  said that there will be change in political powers in the BTAD region.

“We are confident of a change and it is very important to ensure that the massive corruption and misuse of political position in the BTAD region is stopped,” said Boro.

One of the most important questions is the political face against the BPF’s Hagrama Mohiliary, who has been in power in the council since 2003, and on being asked this, Boro said that all these issues will be finalized at the appropriate moment.

Both Brahma and Boro, who will be spearheading the political party UPP (L) in the council election and the state assembly election slated to be held next year, however they refused to give a straight answer on being asked, who will be the political face of the party against the BPF.

“The decision regarding who will be the political face, will be taken at an appropriate time by the party. Now our main aim is to ensure that corruption is stopped soon and development for everyone happens,” informed Boro.

Brahma echoed Boro’s voice, and said that will depend and decided by the elected representatives.

However, there could be a new angle to the next election in the BTAD, and that is the division of Bodo votes which could benefit the political group of Kokrajhar Lok Sabha MP, Naba Sarania, who won the Lok Sabha election twice—in 2014 and 2019.

Sarania won both the times with support of the OBoro Suraksha Samity, which is a group formed for the cause of the Non-Bodos living in the BTAD region.

However there is also a fear that with a multi-cornered election there could be a split in votes, and candidates of the Oboru Suraksha Samity could win majority of seats out of the 40 in the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).

Nevertheless, Boro said that the upcoming election is not an issue of Boro or Oboro, but an issue of development and security of the region.

“Its not the question of who will be able to form the council and who will be in power, but it’s a question of removing corruption from the BTAD area and improving the conditions of people living here,” he added.

Brahma, said that the political front of Naba Sarania can win a maximum of 7 seats in the council, and thus will not be an important factor in the council election.

With the signing of the Accord and all the signatories gearing up to play an active political role in the region, this seems to have put  the leaders of the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), which has been ruling BTC since 2003 and is a partner in the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government in Assam, in the backfoot.

According to sources, at a recent party meeting held at his home turf, Mohilary had said that, the new accord merely changes the name of BTC to Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) and gives nothing.

“We cannot just accept this accord, we will not even use BTR as part of our vocabulary,” he  said.

Mohilary’s reaction  ahead of the BTC elections is noteworthy as his party will be facing a tough fight.

Attacking Pramod Boro, the BTC chief said, he used to say he would never become a politician and contest elections. He lied when he was with ABSU, he will lie more if he comes to power.

Now with one month left for the BTC election, and a year left for the Assam assembly election, it will be interesting to see with which group the BJP will have an alliance-BPF or UPP(L). At present, after the signing of the Accord, it seems the BJP is keeping all its options open and is making itself flexible to do an alliance with any party

 Important Points in the Accord

  • The BTAD will be known as BTR
  • The number of seats in BTAD will be increased from 40 to 60
  • A central university will be set up at Barama in the name of Upendra Nath Brahma
    Special industrial policy for BTAD
  • Railway coach factory to be set up in BTAD area
  • Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre to be set up at Udalguri, Baksa and Chirang
  • DC, SP will be appointed in consultation with BTC authority
  • A national sports university will be set up
  • Autonomous Welfare Council for the Bodo people living outside BTAD areas
  • A cancer hospital and medical college will be set up in Tamulpur
  • Government of India to expedite the process of granting hills tribe status to Bodos living in hills areas
  • A veterinary college will be set up at Kumarikata
  • A central university and RIIMS will be set up in Udalguri
  • Government of Assam “will notify Bodo language in Devanagri script as the associate official language in the state.”

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