The 71st Republic Day of India will forever be used as a calendar reminder of the day before the historic ‘Bodo Peace Accord’ was signed. Among other histories that this powerful document created is the fact that after decades of violence, the Bodo armed struggle has ended.
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Leaders of all the four factions of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) signed the accord and accordingly laid down their arms three days later. All of them unanimously agreed that they were very satisfied with the provisions of the accord and so saw no reason to continue the guerrilla rebellion anymore.
The Government, both at the Centre as well as the State, says it is happy to grant the Bodo nationalist groups (including All Bodo Students’ Union and United Bodo People’s Organisation) their wishes as proposed. Does this mean that the NDFB is the only successful armed militant group in the history of India? To answer this is not an easy puzzle to crack and needs, at the very least, a brief idea of the chronology of matters.
The demand for a separate state for the Bodos has been made as early as 1968 when the Plain Tribes Council of Assam (PTCA) called for union territory status with the name Udayachal. Two years later, the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) was formed with an added demand for inclusion of Bodo as an official language of Assam.
In the early 80s, Assam saw the rise of nationalism in the form of the Assam movement. But although the ABSU took an aggressive position in the agitation, they were pretty much sidelined after it ended. The application of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord being limited to the word ‘Assamese’ and no mention of the names of any specific tribes further irked the Bodos.
Under the leadership of Bodofa Upendranath Brahma, the ABSU started the demand for a separate state in the areas North and North West of the Brahmaputra River. The Bodo belt rang with the slogan of ‘Divide Assam 50-50.’ Around the same time another important development occurred.
In 1986, under the leadership of D R Nabla, an armed militant group named the Bodo Security Force (BdSF) was formed. The group also echoed the call of the ABSU for a separate Bodoland. An added demand of the Christian majority group was for the official script of the Bodo language, which is Devanagri, to be replaced by the Roman script. In 1994, the BdSF officially changed its name to National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). By now D R Nabla and his alias Ranjan Daimary had become household names.
The NDFB is probably the most notorious and dreaded militant group to ever emerge out of Assam. Through inexplicably brutal killings, kidnappings and extortions they had managed to terrorize not only the outsiders, but their own people as well.
It saw the rise of violent and trigger happy leaders who frequently clashed with any person or organization that didn’t fit their profile or treaded their toes. These include the tea tribe people (predominantly Santhals and Oraons) and migrant population in the Bodo belt, the Ana Bodo Surakhya Samity (ABSS), the Central security forces, the State of Assam and even the Bhutan government.
They have even fought against another Bodo armed group, the predominantly Hindu militant group Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) who believed the demand for a sovereign Bodoland was utopian and wanted a separate state or autonomous powers for the Bodos within the territories of India. In fact, NDFB even took strong offences with apolitical organizations like the Bodo Sahitya Sabha, assassinating its Chairperson Bineshwar Brahma in August 2000 for his support of Devanagri as the official script of Bodo language.
The NDFB has continuously placed at its crosshairs Hindi and Bengali speaking inhabitants, Bengali Muslims (who they allege are Bangladeshis) and the tea tribe people who had been brought to Assam from places in present day Jharkhand and Orissa.
They have executed massacres by killing people at point blank range, opening fire by automatic weapons on unarmed villagers, burning down villages and establishing a modus operandi of ethnic cleansing. They made their message clear and registered their opposition to the possession of tribal lands by Bengali settlers and economic as well as social neglect by the State government.
In 2003, the Royal Bhutan Army’s Operation All Clear and subsequent crack down on NDFB bases in Bhutan caused the organization to back down on their offensive. This to the effect that Ranjan Daimary proposed a unilateral ceasefire to the Govt. of India in October 2004.
By May 2005, the Government agreed to it. But it has been observed that the organization used such peace talks only as a gesture to buy time and replenish their resources. Post 2005, the organization took part in many cease fire violations.
When Ranjan Daimary realized that the discussion with the government by the pro talks faction of the group was stuck at a standstill, he became frustrated. This very frustration of the Chairman was vented out in the form of the infamous serial blasts of Assam in 2008 that claimed 81 lives and left many injured and maimed for life.
In 2010, after Daimary’s arrest, the reins of his faction of the organization went to his non Bodo deputy Ingti Kathar Songbijit. Songbijit proved to be even more gruesome and dreaded than his predecessor. He carried out episodes of death and violence like never before, targeting the same old ethnic groups even after Ranjan Daimary signed the Suspension of Operations in 2010.
Most infamous among them are the attacks on the adivasis in December 2014, which saw the death of at least 80 people. These attacks were spread over 4 districts of Assam and led to full scale riots between the Bodos and the Adivasis. Before this, in November 2010, after the arrest of Daimary, multiple killings were executed in different locations around the Sonitpur district. Under Songbijit’s supervision G. Bidai executed the horrid killing of 16-year-old Priya Basumatary, who was suspected to be a police informant.
Her parents and family members were made to watch as the militants pumped 9 bullets into the teenager’s body using automatic assault weapons. The NDFB’s involvement is also suspected in the August 2016 incident in Kokrajhar in which 14 people died when militants opened fire in a crowded market, although they never claimed responsibility for the same. Apart from all these, there has been many more cases of extreme violence including train bombings that have been credited to the organization.
These incidents highlight the fact that NDFB has been relentlessly violent throughout the course of its existence. During this period, they have worked in tandem with other armed outfits of the region, most notably the ULFA and NSCN.
It is to be noted that compared to the NDFB, ULFA and NSCN have become quite peaceful in the recent years with very few reported activities. Both these groups, although are much older than the NDFB have not yet been able to get a satisfactory agreement from the Government. Moreover, the BJP government under the previous home minister Rajnath Singh stuck to its policy of ‘zero tolerance’ for terrorism and refused to sit in talks with the organization after the 2014 attacks citing no possibility of discussion with a group that indulged in killings of innocents. But Home Minister Amit Shah has now welcomed the same violence mongering people to sign the peace accord.
The accord categorically mentions that apart from ‘gruesome’ acts of violence, all cases against NDFB cadres will be withdrawn. The definition of the word ‘gruesome’ in the dictionary of the Government is to be determined because to a bystander all acts by the NDFB would seem to be gruesome.
This decision of the Government also comes at a crucial point of time because right now the state of Assam is boiling with the peoples’ protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the BJP is fast losing its support base in the state.
At this moment, settling the Bodo issue once and for all and making a show out of it by carrying out the signing in Delhi, works in the benefit of the BJP’s political interests. In fact, for the first time since the CAA issue has sparked, the country’s Prime Minister is supposed to visit the state on the 7th of February to congratulate the Bodos in Kokrajhar.
But the NDFB leaders, upon being asked by the media whether this indeed is a permanent solution, have clearly mentioned in all their comments to the media that if the provisions of the accord are met, there will be no more violence. This means that this still is a form of conditional peace settlement.
The BJP government has already been accused by the people of Assam and Tripura to have violated many such previous accords including the Assam Accord, Tripura’s Instrument of Ascension to the Indian Union, the ATTF accord etc. Almost always, the Bodos have come to realize that they were not satisfied with a deal that was initially accepted by them and the new accord is in fact the third such accord signed between the Government and different Bodo leaders.
So is there any guarantee that if tomorrow the same happens with this accord and the NDFB leaders are frustrated with the hung or slow proceedings of its implementation, these resilient men who struggled for more than two decades for their peoples’ cause will not pick up arms and walk into the jungles once again?
Does this mean that the NDFB has been successful in holding the Government hostage and bend its arms to fall for their demands? Although the peace accord has provided for multiple ways to promote and preserve the cultural, political, legislative and administrative rights of the Bodo people, it hasn’t given in to the prime demands on the basis of which NDFB was formed viz. sovereign Bodoland and Roman script for Bodo language. This accord is very powerful and if implemented properly, it will bring prosperity and development for the entire Bodoland Territorial Region. But whether it will bring a permanent and ever lasting solution to the Bodoland struggle, only time will tell.
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