Bodos must unite to take their fight to a logical end

ON 4 October some overzealous cadres of the anti-talk National Democratic Front of Boroland went on a shooting spree — so reminiscent of the 1990s — that accounted for 12 innocents at Biswanath-Chariali in Sonitput district. Coming as this did soon after the pro-talk group started formal discussions with the Centre last month, the outrage was possibly intended as a warning to Delhi that if it continued to engage only the pro-talk faction there would be more bloodshed.
This also confirms the thinking that a piecemeal settlement with Assam’s ethnic militant outfits will not ensure lasting peace. The region has been on the boil again following the leadership change in the NDFB early this year. It all started with the pro-talk NDFB group, which is observing a truce with the Centre since 2005, giving in writing that it had dropped the demand for sovereignty and was prepared to settle its demands within the framework of the Constitution. Obviously, NDFB general secretary Govinda Basumatary, who signed the letter, did not consult chairman Ranjan Daimary who, after signing the truce in 2005, had disappeared from the scene and was said to be living in Bangladesh. His prolonged absence prompted the pro-talk group to oust him. Now he is trying to stage a comeback through violent means.
October is a bad month for Assam. Most killings have taken place at this particular time of year. On 2 October last year in the Bodo-Muslim migrant clashes in Udalgiri and Darrang districts, 51 people lost their lives — 15 in police firing alone. Significantly, this was a major ethnic clash after the Bodos achieved their Territorial Council under the Sixth Schedule. The NDFB was blamed for masterminding the communal riot. Some journalists from Guwahati claimed to have seen Pakistani flags fluttering in the migrant-dominated areas.
Again, on 30 October, Guwahati, Kokrajhar, Barpeta and Bongaigaon were rocked by serial blasts that left 87 dead and more than 150,000 homeless, some of whom are said to be still languishing in relief camps. Dispur suspected the NDFB, Ulfa and also “an outside force”, an obvious reference to the Bangladesh-based Huji. Army sources seem to feel that the latest attack was provoked by growing public resistance to militants’ extortion demands. In the background of last year’s serial blasts, that the situation in the region needed to be closely watched was never in doubt. That militants could strike with ease and impunity suggests the administration’s failure to provide adequate protection to non-Bodos. Chief minister Tarun Gogoi described the killing as a “dastardly act” and, as is the reaction after such an outrage, the government announced ex gratia of Rs 3 lakh to the next of kin of each victim, Rs 50,000 for the seriously injured and Rs 10,000 for those sustaining minor injuries. Soon the incident will be forgotten until another one shakes the administration and the charade will continue, with non-tribals at the mercy of militants. It needs to be noted that the anti-talk NDFB is known for its ethnic cleansing, its main objective being to evict non-tribal minorities in a selective manner to obtain a Bodo majority.
What is happening in the region is an open power struggle between two NDFB factions, but unless they unite to take their fight to its logical conclusion, the region can look forward to little progress for peace. This, however, is not an end in itself. For lasting peace, they have to cast their lot with the Hagrama Mohilary group of the Bodo People’s Progressive Front, which is now at the helm of affairs of the mandated Bodo Territorial Council and, significantly, is also part of Tarun Gogoi’s Congress government.
Since law and order is Dispur’s responsibility, it cannot remain a mute spectator to the many massacres of innocents. For one, the anti-talk group’s potential for mischief cannot be underestimated because of its nexus with the Ulfa and NSCN(IM).