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Sushanta Talukdar
Date of Publish: 2016-12-17

Ethnic issues may pose bigger challenges for Sonowal government in the New Year


The year 2016 is going to close with the first Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government headed by Sarbananda Sonowal in Assam bogged down by statewide protests over the Narendra Modi-led government’s move to grant citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshi migrants. Political developments towards the fag end of the year indicate that bigger challenges are in store for the Sonowal government in the New Year. 

The All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU), the National Democratic Front of Boroland (Progressive) and the People’s Joint Action Committee for Bodoland Movement (PJACBM) took out protest rally and staged Satyagraha in three-day long agitation programme staged in New Delhi on December 12-14 and announced their decision to launch a ‘Do or Die’ agitation from March next year to press for the demand for creation of a separate state of Bodoland to be carved out of Assam.

Rally taken out by the ABSU, NDFB (P) and PJACBM in New Delhi ( Photo courtesy : Pramod Boro)

December 14, the Modi government tabled the Constitution (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) Orders (Amendment) Bill, 2016 on the floor of the parliament for inclusion of new communities in the ST list but the six communities of the state – Tai-Ahoms, Koch-Rajbongshis, Morans, Mataks, Chutyia and Tea-tribes which have been agitating for decades for ST status were not included. 

The ABSU and its allies have planned to chalk out a detail programme for a mass movement on their statehood demand after the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of formation of the student body scheduled to be held in February next.

If the three-day agitation programmes in New Delhi on December 12-14 staged by the ABSU and its allies including a rally from Rajghat to Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on December 13 and Satygraha on December 14 had any indication, the agitating Bodo groups have already prepared the ground for a mass upsurge in Assam to press for the revived statehood demand.

The December 13 rally taken out by the Bodo groups in the national capital sent out a clear message to both the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre and the Sarbananda Sonowal government in the state that the situation might reach a flashpoint if Delhi and Dispur continue to remain indifferent and fail to respond to their demand and initiate political level discussion with the Bodo groups before the March deadline.

The last political level tripartite meeting was held in February, 2014 during the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. The meeting was chaired by the then Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde. “Nothing came out of the meeting as it was convened with an eye on the 2014 Lok Sabha polls,” alleges Boro. President Pramod Boro told nezine.com.

“We met the top BJP leaders and pledged our support to the party in 2014 Lok Sabha polls in lieu of their promise to solve the Bodoland problem if the BJP is voted to power. In fact the ABSU was the first student body in the state to openly announce support to the BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Unfortunately, the BJP leaders have now gone back on their promises,” alleges ABSU President Pramod Boro.

Rally taken out by the ABSU, NDFB (P) and PJACBM in New Delhi ( Photo courtesy : Pramod Boro) 

“The Narendra Modi-led government has also not taken any initiative to end the stalemate on Bodoland issue. So far, no tripartite meeting has been held at the political level and the only tripartite level discussion at the bureaucrat’s level was held on June 9, 2015. The Centre assured to discuss the issues in which state government is concerned in the state and discuss the issues in which the Central government is concerned in New Delhi. However, there has been no progress since then,” Mr Boro tells nezine.com

After the ABSU and its allies resorted agitation programs like national highway blockade, railway blockade in the months of August and September, the Sonowal government invited the student body for bureaucrat level meeting to discuss their demands. Proceedings of the meeting held on November 9 states that the state Chief Secretary V.K. Pipersenia assured the ABSU delegation of placing the student body’s demand for ending the stalemate of political-level tripartite talks for solution of BODO issues”, before the Chief Minister. 

Both the Delhi and in Dispur seemed to have adopted an indifferent attitude towards the ABSU and as the BJP is wary of antagonising its coalition partner in the state- the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF)-the coalition partner of the BJP in the state which is in loggerheads with the ABSU. Besides, they are apprehensive that any political importance shown to ABSU and its allies has the potential to turn them more influential among the Bodos and if that happens it might cause erosion in the support base of the BPF. In such a situation, the BPF snapping its ties with the BJP and moving closer to its old partner, the opposition Congress, cannot be ruled out.  The other coalition partner, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) has opposed the Modi-led government’s move to grant Indian citizenship to Hindu Bangaldeshi migrants and a section of AGP leaders led by former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta have vowed to oppose the move tooth and nail which has strained the relations between the BJP and a section of the leaders of the regional party. The BJP cannot afford to offend its two allies at the same time.

In a memorandum addressed to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Bodo organisations demanded the Centre to “protect, preserve and safeguard the identity of Boro and other tribal people with language, culture and tradition by creating Bodoland state.” The organisations alleged in their joint memorandum that the two tripartite Bodo Accords signed since the first phase of statehood movement launched in 1987, have failed to fulfil the aspirations of the Bodo people.

Rally taken out by the ABSU, NDFB (P) and PJACBM in New Delhi ( Photo courtesy : Urkhao Gwra Brahma) 

The first Bodo Accord signed by Delhi and Dispur with the ABSU on February 10, 1993 led to creation of the erstwhile Bodoland Autonomous Council but the ABSU and other Bodo bodies later denounced the BAC arrangement and revived the statehood movement in 1996 alleging that the BAC failed to fulfil the aspiration of the Bodo people. Parallel to the mass movement for statehood launched by the ABSU and the erstwhile Bodo People’s Action Committee (BPAC), the erstwhile militant outfit Bodo Liberation Tigers launched an armed campaign for separate state of Bodoland. The erstwhile BLT signed a tripartite agreement with Delhi and Dispur on February 10, 2003 to pave the creation of the present BTC under amended provisions of the Sixth Schedule which the erstwhile militant outfit accepted in lieu of statehood.

The ABSU president insists that BTC “is only an interim arrangement” and “cannot fulfil the hopes and aspirations of the Bodo people for protection of their identity, language and culture.” The BPF headed by Hagrama Mahilary, the former chief of the erstwhile BLT, is the ruling party in BTC.

The delay on the issue of inclusion of the six communities in the ST list is likely to prompt the organisations representing these communities to revive agitation in order to mount pressure on the government. In November, the Modi government informed the parliament that the Singhla Committee appointed to recommend modalities for inclusion of these six communities could not be submitted due to by-polls to Lakhmipur Lok Sabha constituency. The Committee was initially asked to submit its report by May 31.

All eyes are now on the Sonowal government as to how it handles the pressure.

Sushanta Talukdar




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