Heera Sarania enjoys being lonely. But he is confident that the people in his Kokrajhar district in Assam want him to raise their issues in the country's Parliament in New Delhi. It is another matter that Sarania is a former United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) militant with two serious criminal cases registered against him.
The 45-year-old plans to contest from Kokrajhar as an independent candidate. Sarania reasons that Independents tend to get support from across sections. "I never wanted to become an MP or a minister. But people want me to contest," Sarania told dna. "I am being supported by non-Bodos. Many of them are members of different political parties. They want to send me to the Parliament because they believe I can raise their issues."
An ethnic tribe, Bodos are considered to be Assam's earliest settlers, and are a listed scheduled tribe. Kokrajhar, one of the four districts in the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD), is a reserved ST seat in the Lok Sabha; the seat has for long been a stronghold of the Bodoland People's Front (BPF), a party formed by former militants of the Bodo Liberation Tigers.
The BPF also controls the Bodoland Territorial Council, which was formed after the Centre signed the 2003 Bodo Accord with the Bodo Liberation Tigers. The Accord infuriated non-Bodos, who claim that 600 villages that have no Bodo population have been included in the Bodoland Territorial Council. Non-Bodos claim that they are treated as second class citizens in Bodoland despite the Bodo population constituting just 26 per cent of BTAD population. Bodo militants, they claim, regularly intimidate, extort, kidnap and kill non-Bodos. In 2012, nearly 100 people lives were lost in ethnic clashes between Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims.
It is against this backdrop that Sarania, a reformed militant, will take on Kokrajhar's sitting MP, Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary, of the BPF — itself a party of former militants. Others in the fray include former Meghalaya governor RS Mooshahary of the Trinamool Congress and UG Brahma of the Bodoland People's Progressive Front.
"Non-Bodos are increasingly being targeted. They are being killed, extorted, threatened and discriminated against. I want respite from these evils," said Sarania. "It won't be a contest between Bodos and non-Bodos. I'm sure some Bodos, who stand against all kind of violence, will help me."
Sarania has found support from the Sanmilita Janagostiya Aikkyamancha (SJA) — a conglomerate of 21 ethnic and linguistic groups, including All Koch Rajbangsi Students' Union, All Bodoland Minority Students' Union, Obodo (non-Bodo) Suraksa Samiti, Obodo Yuva Mancha etc.
"Bodos have invariably represented Kokrajhar in the Parliament. But they (Bodo MPs) have done little for the non-Bodos," said Obodo Suraksa Samiti chief secretary Dilwar Hussain. "We're supporting Sarania as we thought he will raise the issues confronting non-Bodos."
Sarania targeted his chief opponent Bwiswmuthiary for ignoring non-Bodos and solely focussing on the demand for a separate state. "As an MP, he has all along raised only the demand for a separate Bodoland in the Parliament. Why was he mum on the sufferings of non-Bodos in BTAD?" asked Sarania.
There are plenty of takers for Sarania's reasoning that a separate Bodoland will compound the miseries of non-Bodos in BTAD. "Bodos make up only 26 per cent of the population in BTAD. So, how can 26 per cent people have the right to lord over 74 per cent non-Bodos?" asked SJA president Hiteshwar Barman.
That Bwiswmuthiary faces a tough contest in Sarania is apparent from such widespread support. Sarania's militancy days will, no doubt, come handy in strategising for the battle ahead. Sarania joined the militant outfit when he was just 20 "to realise the unfulfilled dreams of the people". Later, as the commander of an Ulfa battalion, Sarania had kept many security personnel on their toes and was among one of its most-wanted rebels. One of the two cases against Sarania is the kidnapping and killing of Food Corporation of India's director, PC Ram. In 2010, Sarania was among ULFA's senior brass that made peace with the government and abandoned arms.
Sarania, who has six siblings and whose father was in the army, is confident that people will support him despite his militant past. "Only those, who have mingled with me, know me. I have always been with people, during their good and bad times," said Sarania, who enjoys listening to music.
Seat: Kokrajhar district, Assam
Category: Reserved for ScheduledTribes
Sitting MP: Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary, BPF
In fray: Bwiswmuthiary, Heera Sarania (Independent), RS Mooshahary (Trinamool Congress), UG Brahma (Bodoland People's Progressive Front)