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Resolving the Bodo Militancy

Dr. M. Amarjeet Singh is Assistant Professor of Conflict Resolution, School of Social Sciences, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Indian Institute of Science Campus, Banglore, India. Prior to this he was Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • October 20, 2008

    Bodo militancy can be effectively resolved by accommodating the only surviving Bodo militant outfit within the existing self-governing territorial council that came into existence in 2003. In the mid-1980s, the Bodos of Assam under its influential student body, the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU), which began a vigorous mass movement demanding a separate Bodoland state on the North of the Brahmaputra. The movement lasted for about a decade and resulted in the establishment of a territorially defined self governing council known as Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC) in 1993. However, the BAC became non-functional due to several reasons leading to the revival of another statehood movement, which saw the emergence of a new brand of militancy spearheaded by the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT). In 2001, the outfit gave up the demand for a separate state and reconciled to yet another self-governing council known as Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) constituted in 2003. Even the BTC fulfilled the aspirations of the Bodos only partially. The National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) opposed the BTC and continued with its agitation.

    In 2005, the leaders of NDFB expressed their willingness to give up their core demand of a ‘sovereign Bodoland’, and to settle their grievances within the framework of the Constitution of India. Their demand now is for a separate Bodoland state, which is being supported by Hagrama Mahilary, chief of the BTC, who has noted that the BTC could be scrapped if the NDFB agreed to a separate state. Mahilary had also publicly noted earlier in 2007 that the Bodos must get a separate state within the next two decades.

    NDFB, being the only surviving Bodo militant outfit, is attempting to consolidate popular support that was once enjoyed by its arch-rival BLT by raising the demand of a Bodoland state. There is also a feeling among a section of the Bodos that the NDFB might be able to secure a better deal for them. Moreover, the ongoing feud among Bodo political leaders in their bid to control Bodo politics has been a boon to NDFB. For instance, the Bodo People’s Progressive Front (BPPF), a Bodo political party formed in 2005 at the behest of ABSU and the then BLT, underwent a sudden split on the eve of the council elections held in 2005. Post-poll violence continued to rock the Bodo areas with the two rival BPPF camps engaged in violent clashes – attacking villages, torching houses and indulging in vandalism. The split has helped the NDFB to consolidate its position as the dominant group in Bodo politics.

    However, the path for a separate Bodo state is ridden with obstacles. Non-Bodos, who constitute the majority in areas that the Bodos would like to be included in their scheme of a Bodoland state, oppose any move in this regard. They are already feeling marginalised following the formation of the BTC and accuse the government of succumbing to the gun culture of the Bodo militants. It is therefore essential that their aspirations are also taken into account. The Assam government also does not favour any division of the state because it may lead to similar demands from tribes such as the Dimasas and the Karbis. Moreover, the Bodo population does not inhabit a contiguous area and are spread over different districts of Assam. These were the major reasons why the government declined to offer a separate state in the two peace deals it had signed with the Bodos in 1993 and 2003.

    The government cannot also sideline the BTC as it may lead to another phase of fratricidal clashes, given that most of the leaders of the BTC are former militants. At the same time, the NDFB cannot simply expect to get a better deal than the BTC. In the last five years of its existence, the BTC has been credited with a series of development activities across the four districts that constitute the BTC area of Assam. It is now the turn of the NDFB to respect the wishes of the people and cooperate in the affairs of the BTC. Although both camps may not like to share power at the moment, but in the overall interest of peace and development of the state in general and the Bodo areas in particular, the time has come for the two camps to sort out their differences and work together.

    As the peace talks began to pick up, government negotiators too need to take extra measures. Inept handling of the situation could have grave consequences and may even lead to the revival of a full-fledged militancy and another phase of statehood movement.

    Although the unfulfilled demand of a separate Bodoland state still looms large among the Bodos, the internal feud between the top leaders, Ranjan Daimary who heads the NDFB and Hagrama Mahilary who heads the BTC, is preventing agreement on a joint stand. The interest of the entire Bodo community makes it imperative that they sort out their differences. Mass-based social organisations like the Bodo Women Welfare Federation and Bodo Sahitya Sabha could play a mediating role in this regard. If these differences are resolved, it may not be difficult to ensure the participation of the NDFB in the next council elections due in 2010 and thus move towards ending the decades-old Bodo militancy.