Bodoland Agreement

Devabrata Sharma

The Union Government has entered into the Third Bodo agreement in a row, the BAC (Bodoland Autonomous Council), BTC (Bodoland Territorial Council), and now the BTR (Bodoland Territorial Region) agreements. In spirit and essence the third one is the same with the two previous ones, but at the same time its extension and expansion are more than the previous two.

From the BAC to the BTR, it is repetition in the sense that non-Bodos are essentially excluded from its purview. All the Bodo agreements are the products of a systematic politics of ethnic exclusivism and ethnic cleansing. In the last two decades. Lower Assam has witnessed a series of massacres of Miya Muslims and Adivasis and also sporadic killings of the Assamese and other ethnicities, not excluding the Bodos themselves. While Bodo ethnic terrorists are mainly to blame for these bloodletting, the Assam Gana Parishad (AGP) and the ruling class parties cannot evade responsibility. The Congress (I), the AGP and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) all have their role in enacting the agreements. This resulted from a changeover from the earlier game of excluding the tribals from the state of affairs to their sharing the loaves of office. The (Caste Hindu) ruling class learnt the lesson from the Assam Movement, particularly after 1983, when the tribals stood in opposition to it, along the minorities and Adivasis. Ex-post facto wisdom led it to accommodate the tribal elite into its fold.

Though the newly emerging tribal (mainly Bodo) upper strata was opposed to the dominations of Assamese Caste Hindu elite, it emulated the latter in massacring, oppressing the other subalterns.

In that sense Bodo autonomy was not born out of desires of democratisation and equalisation but from a desire of further dividing the people and suppressing them ruthlessly.

The BJP has only strengthened and deepened that statist (Hindu) nationalist agenda by further incorporating the tribal elite into its alliance. Not just the Bodos, it has also taken the Misings, Tiwas and Rabhas into its fold by offering them sops This is part of the BJP grand alliance of Bengali Hidus + Assamese Hindus + Tribals. Reminiscent of the Nellie days, the ruling class still belives in utilising the services of the tribals vis-a-vis the minorities, Adivasis and other subalterns.

To recall, in BAC/BTC-BTAD itself the Bodos comprise of only 28% or about one-fourth of the population while the non-Bodos comprise of 72% or about three-fourth of the population. To let one-fourth rule over three-fourth is travesty of all basic tenets of democracy.

The very victory of Nobo Sarania, a non-Bodo candidate of Kokrajhar Loksabha Constituency for two consecutive terms proves it beyond any iota of doubt that the non-Bodos comprise overwhelming majority of the BTC-BTAD area. However his victory in 2014 and 2019 are not sudden developments. Rather, they are the inevitable developments of a politics of resistance to ethnic exclusivism built up over the decades. It was in the last decades of twentieth century that the URMCA-PCC, CPI(ML) had participated in the Kokrajhar Loksabha Constituency elections. Theodore Kisku Rapaz, the great Santhal-Adivasi scholar, had fought on URMCA ticket to take on the trigger happy Bodo terrorists. Rapaz fought twice, got defeated twice though he secured upto 2,50,000 votes, while the margin was a thin 30,000 votes. So the resistance to state-backed Bodo ethnic terrorism, now backed to the hilt by the Hindutva forces, has been growing by the decades.

The signing of the BTR agreement deprives the non-Bodos of their land rights and even the right to elect and be elected. But the BTR is proposed to be a further extension and expansion of the former BTC-BTAD, thus taking into its fold many more villages, and increasing the scope of much more conflicts.

While the BTR agreement is signed by all the Bodo factions from the BPF to ABSU to all four splinter groups of NDFB, there is every chance that the promise of power will open up many contradictions among the Bodo leadership then solving it. Because there is no provision for any real power to the people nor any real decentralisation to grassroot level. It is just a ploy to rehabilitate—thousands of ethnic terrorists at the cost of the state exchequer. This plunder of the exchequer cannot be expected to benefit the Bodo masses, specially the poorer sections. Besides the internecine bickerings of the various Bodo outfits are not expected to end so easily.

Moreover, the precise timing of the BTR agreement has made it suspect in the eyes of the people as it is considered to be aimed at dividing the anti-CAA movement especially in the North Bank of Brahmaputra.

Another irony of the whole issue is the recognition of Bodo as associate language of Assam. There could be several associate and even official languages in a state (in the case of Assam Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Sadri etc.), no doubt about that. But this recognition reminds one of the fact that the Assamese chauvinists under the aegis of Axom Sahitya Sabha had opposed use of Roman script for Bodo language in 1974 very bitterly. The Sabha had sided with the Congress Government, which had shot dead as many as 18 Bodos demanding Roman script for their language. History has turned a full circle now with recognition of Bodo as Associate Language. The Sabha is clueless as how to react. So are All Assam Students Union (AASU) and allied organisations about the BTR. They can neither accept nor reject it. Such is the predicament of Assamese 'nationalist' organisations. Their political orientationlessness however does not make the BTR agreement any agreeable. Rather it has opened a Pandora's Box.

The vexed Bodo tangle cannot be resolved unless Assam is fully recognised on federal basis. In hindsight, 'Reorganisation of Assam on federal basis' was precisely the demand of All Bodo Students Union (AbSU) and Plain Tribal Council of Assam (PTCA) five decades ago. In the late eighties URMCA had revived and reiterated the demand to 'Reorganise Assam on Federal Basis'. The report of Home Ministry appointed 3-man expert committee headed by Dr Bhupinder Singh had also recommended providing of multi layered autonomy to the Bodos and Misings. The need of the hour is to take all these experiences into account and to pave the way for a New Democratic Assam to be built by restructuring the present polity on the basis of multilevel autonomy and federalism. That federal Assam would take care of the just aspirations of all nationalities and ethnicities of Assam, including the Bodos. Only such an inclusive, accommodative set up, and not BAC/BTC/BTR built upon the politics of ethnic exclusion and cleansing can provide peace and prosperity in Assam. That New Democratic Federal Assam would also pave the way for a New Democratic Federal India.

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Vol. 52, No. 37, Mar 15 - 21, 2020