Assam’s ethnic conflict ridden Kokrajhar is burning once again. Terror has struck again in the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) area as a fresh violence has been unleashed by suspected Bodo rebels from the underground National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB)‘s Songbhijit faction. As this report is being published at least 32 people, all of them from minority community, have lost their lives in a series of mindless killings that started on Thursday evening when three people from one family including two women were gunned down by the terrorists, injuring two children.
On Thursday the suspected rebels again attacked Balapara in Kokrajhar district killing seven people on the spot, injuring three others. From Friday morning onwards a series of dead bodies were recovered from remote areas of Baksa district of (Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts) BTAD.
Curfew has been imposed in three BTAD district—Kokrajhar, Chirang and the worst affected Baksa. Army has been called in; shoot at sight orders have been issued; 10 additional companies of central forces have been rushed to BTAD. They will join the already existing 33 companies of central security forces.
Assam Police, the ruling Congress and its ally the Bodoland Peoples’ Front (BPF) which rules the BTC, claim it to be handiwork of the NDFB-Songbhijit group. The outfit had called in few local news channel’s to deny its involvement.
All this is nothing new for Kokrajhar and communities living in BTAD. In 2012, the region saw bloody ethnic clashes between the Bodo tribe and the Muslim settlers, the clashes ran over two months killing more than 100 people, displacing over five lakh helpless. The riots created a sharp ethnic divide in the area.
And this is not the first time that the Bodo heartland has seen riots. Post independence, the Bodos, who are aboriginals of the area and the biggest tribal groups of Assam have clashed with the Adivasi tea tribes, the Muslim settlers and even the Bengali Hindus. The Bodos with slightly more than 30% of total population are ‘Minority’ against the Non–Bodos who have little less the 70% population in the area.
Amongst the non-Bodos the Bengali speaking Muslim settlers, who are often branded as Bangladeshis, owing to the fact that lower Assam has experienced years of illegal migration form neighbouring Bangladesh.
Over three decades now, the Bodos have seen parallel insurgent movement and democratic agitations centered on Kokrajhar for a separate Bodo state–Bodoland, thus the non–Bodos have been pushed to the each even if they are more in numbers.
As the Bodoland movement grew momentum in the 90s the non-Bodos started feeling threatened. In 2003, the then NDA regime signed the historic Bodoland accord with the surrendered rebels of Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) paving way for the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) giving the Bodos more autonomy. The surrendered BLT cadres led by Hagrama Mohilary formed the political outfit Bodo Peoples’ Front (BPF) which has been in power in BTC since inception.
The Tarun Gogoi government in Assam, which has been in power since 2001, has been long accused by intellectuals of neglecting issues of the tribal rights in Assam. In 2006, the Congress made an alliance with BPF, which is still intact. This led to total withdrawal of Congress from BTC area. It was like almost Tarun Gogoi ruling the BTC through his political sub contractor Hagrama Mohilary.
The formation of BTC led to reorganisation of areas under its jurisdiction BTAD the four districts of Kokrajahr, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri. But in this process of reorganisation no villages were shifted, thus the non-Bodos suddenly found themselves being ruled by the Bodos, or rather the rebel-turned-politicians. This was the root of political resentment of the non-Bodos in the area, particularly the Muslim. The Bengali speaking Muslims did find a way of political assertion through Maulana Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) which has strong hold in lower Assam and is the main opposition party in Assam. Soon the Muslim votes, which were once of Congress started shifted to AIUDF, thus Congress required BPF more badly—a political symbiosis.
Thus the Bodoland Accord which was aimed at giving more autonomy to the region, perhaps triggered conflict.
Over the years Kokrajahr has seen several targeted killing. The Bodos are themselves divided into two major lobbies—one that support a democratic agigation for a separate Bodo state, the other which is in favour of the softer approach, that is to remain as a council - BPF leads this bandwagon.
Over the years allegations are growing against BPF of keeping control over BTC by using money, muscle and gun power. The availability of illegal arms in plenty and many groups of the NDFB operating in the makes it a heinous cauldron—of killing, extortion, kidnapping, targeted killings and political supremacy on ethnic lines. The divide of distrust amonst communities has become largely wider after the 2012 clashes.
Under this back drop, Kokrajhar saw a first of its kind multicornered fight for the Lok Sabha polls for Kokrajahr constituency, polling was held on April 24. The electioneering saw the Bodos divided in two groups—the one supporting BPF candidate and Assam Transport Minister Chandan Brahma, the other supporting independent candidate and former Rajya sabha member from the area UG Brahma who was supported by the pro-Bodoland lobby led by the powerful All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU). The non-Bodos this time rallied behind an Independent candidate—Naba Kumar Sarania, alais Hira, a once dreaded commander of ULFA who can over ground along with the outfit’s chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa to initiate peace talks with Centre. Sarania, a tribal himself, was seen as a befitting man to the take on the rowdies of BPF.
Political watchers believe that there will be division of Bodo votes in Kokrjahr and Sarania might even win if the Non-Bodos , particularly the Muslims vote for him , as the Muslim have the highest votes in the constituency. The victims of the violence in the past two days have been saying that the attackers might not be rebels from NDFB but dares of BPF, who targeted them for supporting Sarania. Even a section of Muslim leaders from Congress including powerful minister Siddique Ahmed have hinted towards a BPF hand, something that Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi does not subscribe to.
Gogoi has asked for more central forces, he has also asked for NIA probe, but now serious question marks have been raised over his style of governance. His dissident lobby supposedtly led by state Health minister Himanta Biswa Sharma would once again rack it the BTAD issue to the high command to try and topple Gogoi, as a cold war is on for almost two years now.
But beyond this clearly emerging—a pattern of ethnic cleansing.
With BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s ‘dead against illegal migrant’ stand, Assam might become his new lab for testing his Hindutva card. And in a state where no community is a majority in real terms, any political air to ethnic cleansing can be suicidal, after Congress even BJP might walk the same way in Assam for political compulsions. The bottom line from Kokrajhar even as more bodies of kids and women are being recovered is that political conspiracy rules the roost and it might even cost the Bodos with their dream of a separate Bodoland.