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Editorial

Violent power struggle in Bodoland

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By EMN Updated: May 06, 2014 11:39 pm
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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he recent wave of attacks in Bodoland, perpetrated by gun-toting assailants against Muslim settlers, claimed at least 32 lives and rendered hundreds homeless. The victims were mostly women and children. At least 17 people of the affected villages in Kokrajhar and Baksa districts are still missing and believed to have been killed. The attacks were gruesome given that even children, aged one and two years, were not spared and shot several times.As the restive areas now show signs of limping back to normalcy, the political blame-game has begun. Fingers are increasingly being pointed out at the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), which is an ally of ruling Congress in Assam. The BPF rules the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) and is led by leaders of erstwhile Bodo extremist group Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT).
Bowing to pressure, the state government has announced a judicial inquiry by a retired judge, in addition to the probe by the National Investigation Agency, to pin down those responsible as allegations galore about the involvement of BPF leaders in the violence. The migrant Muslims attribute the mayhem to the Bodos’, BPF particularly, growing fear about losing political clout in the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD). The BTAD comprises of Kokrajhar, Baksa, Chirang and Udalguri districts and has the lone Parliamentary seat of Kokrajhar. It has 14.92 lakh voters but non-Bodos make up over 70 per cent of them. In fact, the Bodos constitute little over 30 per cent of the 31 lakh people living in BTAD.
The conflict between Bodos and non-Bodos first came to the fore in the lead-up-to the signing of Bodo peace accord with the BLT which paved the grounding for the creation of BTC in 2003. It got intensified after around 600 villages with alleged zero percent Bodo population were included in the BTC.
Non-Bodos allege that they have for long been subjected to assaults, intimidations, extortions, abductions and killings by Bodo militants and elements. So in the just-concluded Lok Sabha polls, a conglomerate of 20 influential non-
Bodo organisations backed a former Ulfa leader Heera Sarania, who contested as an independent from Kokrajhar, hoping that he would raise their plight in the Parliament. Tensions started building in the Bodo belt ever since this move by the
non-Bodos. The migrant Muslim settlers, whose growth in western Assam has been alarming in recent years, say they became the ‘soft targets’ for backing the former Ulfa leader.
The latest attacks are reminiscent of the 2012 deadly ethnic riots in BTAD in which over 100 lives, mostly that of Bengali-speaking Muslims, were lost. Several hundreds of them, displaced by the riots, are still lodged in relief camps.
The BTC looks after the aspect of development in BTAD and gets special funds from the Centre for the purpose. But it was never for the creation of an autonomous council that the Bodos have waged an armed struggle for three decades now. It is evident from the continued insurgency movement in Bodoland.
The Bodo extremist groups, including those in ceasefire with government, have no disagreement on the demand of “Bodoland state”. In fact, even the BPF has raised the demand for a separate homeland both within and outside the Parliament from time to time.
The Bodos are the largest plains tribal group in the Northeast and the movement for a separate homeland has its genesis in the 1967 demand by the Plains Tribal
Council for carving a Union Territory named Udayachal out of Assam. The demand was raised after it had dawned on the Bodos that tribal blocks and belts notified by the British were being acquired by rich immigrant Muslim landlords. But as the Bodos went on raising the demand, it more and more distanced the non-Bodos from them. The series of protests by non-Bodos ahead of the creation of BTC is a pointer. The conflict is more about the majority being ruled by the minority than anything else.
Bodo groups suspect the hand of elements with political interests in the incidents. But Muslim organisations say the attacks were purely political in nature, perpetrated by elements for fear of losing political power and space. Whatever the causes maybe, the investigators probing the incidents will, hopefully, be able to unravel the conspiracy and help bring those responsible to justice.

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By EMN Updated: May 06, 2014 11:39:09 pm