The Bodoland Problem
The Bodos are an ethnic and linguistic community centered on the Udalguri and Kokrajhar of Assam. They are largest of the 18 ethnic sub-groups within the Bodo-Kachari group.
Demand for Seperate Bodoland
The demand for a separate land for Bodos has its roots as back as 1930s when Gurudev Kalicharan Brahma, a leader of the Bodos submitted memorandum to Simon Commission demanding for a separate political set up for the indigenous and tribal people of Assam. This demand was met neither by British India nor by Independent India.
The second wave of demands came up in 1960s and the third one in 1980s. This time, demand for Bodoland began on 2 March 1987 under the leadership of Upendranath Brahma of the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) and its political organization Bodo Peoples’ Action Committee (BPAC). The objective of the ABSU/BPAC movement was to get Assam divided 50-50 between Bodoland and Assam.
The movement became violent soon. In 1993, the Assam Government entered into a bipartite Bodo accord with ABSU to form a Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC) to fulfill socio-economic aspirations of the Bodos. This experiment failed due to non-implementation of various provisions of the Accord. It collapsed within a year. The statehood demand was again revived by ABSU in 1996.
In 2003 under the NDA Government, a second tripartite Bodo Accord was signed between the Bodo Liberation Tiger (BLT), a militant outfit, the Central Government and the Assam Government. Via agreement, the Bodos were granted the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), within the State of Assam under Sixth Schedule.
Bodoland Territorial Council
The Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) has legislative, administrative, executive and financial powers over 40 policy areas in the Bodoland Territorial Areas Districts comprising four districts of Assam. The objective of BTC was to fulfill economic, educational and linguistic aspirations and the preservation of land-rights, socio-cultural and ethnic identity of the Bodos; and speed up the infrastructure development in BTC area. The districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Udalguri and Baksa came under the BTC administrative area.
As per the 2003 accord, the BLT was required to surrender all their arms and converted into Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), a political party now ruling the Council.
However, the democratic and unarmed sections of the Bodo groups – the ABSU and the erstwhile Coordination Committee for the Bodoland Movement (CCBM) were sidelined at the time of the signing of the second Bodo Accord even though they enjoyed more popular support than the erstwhile BLT. However, they backed the peace deal, and this allowed the leaders of the erstwhile BLT to get the upper hand when it came to the constitution of the BTC under the amended provisions of the Sixth Schedule.
Murky Politics of Bodoland
What happened later was more to internal murky politics of the BTC. Some of the former militants of the BLT and leaders of ABSU-CCBM leaders constituted a Bodoland People’s Progressive Front (BPPF). This BPPF got split into BPPF (Hagrama), led by Hagrama Mahilary, the erstwhile BLT chief and BPPF (Rabiram), led by Rabiram Narzary, former ABSU president. When the first elections to the BTC took place, these two factions got engaged into violence. People gave mandate to BPPF (Hagrama) because they felt that Mahilary, being the signatory to the Bodo Accord, would be in a better position to bring more funds and development to BTC areas. The BPPF (Hagrama) was later renamed as Bodoland People’s Front (BPF).
There are two more organizations active in Bodoland as follows:
National Democratic Front of Bodoland
The NDFB, originally known as the Bodo Security Force (BdSF), was founded on October 3, 1986. Its stated objective is the attainment of a sovereign Bodoland. This was a militant outfit engaged in several blasts in the region. Its founder president Ranjan Daimary, who was handed over by Bangladesh to India in 2010, was under arrest till recently and was granted bail in June 2013. This organization had also split into NDFB (Progressive) and the other faction as the NDFB (Ranjan Daimary) in 2009.
Bodo National Conference
A new umbrella organization of the Bodos, called the Bodo National Conference (BNC), was formed at a two-day Bodo National Convention in Kokrajhar on November 19, 2010, with the objective of providing a common platform for all Bodo organizations – political and non-political – to fight for their common causes, including the demand for a separate State of Bodoland.
Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF)
This is the youngest of the active insurgencies in Assam. It came into being on May 16, 2004, following the ceasefire signed with the government by the United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), the Karbi Anglong-based insurgent outfit, two years earlier. A faction of the UPDS opposed to the ceasefire split and constituted itself as the KLNLF. Though it includes the North Cachar Hills in its name, yet the KLNLF is active principally in Karbi Anglong, which, with the North Cachar Hills district, constitutes the Autonomous District (ST) Lok Sabha constituency. Its stated objective is greater autonomy for the district, not sovereignty or independence. However, it has carried out some dreadful actions of ambush, kidnapping for ransom and murder. Its activities have severely hampered power and railway construction projects in the region in which it is active.
Demand for Separate Bodoland State: Analysis
The demand of Bodoland state is based on the racial ethnicity but the Indian Constitution does not guarantee a separate state based on racial ethnicity. A deeper analysis of issues of the Bodo community points out their fight for identity over land, territory and natural resources. The Bodo areas have been encroached and settled upon by others. The other problems are related to their low socio-economic status. Their demand for separate state by means of violence is however not acceptable. The creation of a separate state would not promise to resolve their issues. Rather it would create more problems by eruption of demand for statehood form other separatist groups.
The Bodo’s issue should be dealt by the government by adopting policies to protect their cultural-linguistic identity and socio-economic development. The government should strengthen the autonomous, administrative divisions in Assam established on the basis of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Assam government should ensure wider people participation in implementation of the provisions of the Constitution for the Bodo community. At the same time, the government should strictly take action against the separatist groups who are creating organised violence in the region. Efforts to divide Bodo and non-Bodo people should be countered effectively. Granting of funds and special status to Bodo people is not just sufficient; the government should take measures to improve the other economic sectors of the region like development of agro-based industries, tourism and hydroelectric power generation etc. It will create more employment opportunities. On social development front, government should take efforts to create more educational opportunities and improve health facilities in the region. Measures to protect their language and cultural identity should be taken. The failures to implement the earlier measures should not be repeated.