The dilemma over One-man Expert Committee

By Monjib Mochahari, Think Series, March, 2014

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A storm in a cup of tea has been quite visible since the beginning of the tripartite talks between the government representatives and the Bodo leaders. The bitter political debate has once again resurfaced in Bodoland following the setting up of Single-man Expert Committee headed by G.K. Pillai on February 27, to initiate a feasibility study on the proposed Bodoland- to be carved out of Assam. It is rather surprising even before the committee’s actual role is defined; it has already created an unnecessary rift between the two factions, one led by Bodo People’s Front (BPF) and the other camp by All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU). BPF succeeded in its pressure on the Central Government to institute an expert committee, while the ABSU and its associates have been opposing the idea since it came up in the second round of tripartite talks held in New Delhi. Both the parties have put forward their line arguments aggressively as well as questioning the stand of the rival group. Citing the examples of the three committees formed to examine Telengana demand, the BPF argued that it is a normal democratic process of state creation. It is within the limit of democracy, they say. But there is a sharp contraction coming from the ABSU and its associates. They argue Bodoland is an old demand there is no need for certification of an expert committee’s findings to authenticate whether the region can be converted into a state or not. While some members in the ABSU camps also argue that no new states have been formed based on expert committee’s report in India in the past. So what can be perceived here is that the move is nothing but an excuse to derail the ongoing tripartite talks because the Central government does not have any immediate political solution to attend the demands of the Bodos.

It is obvious the debate is likely to add more tremors in Bodo heartland in the coming days. It is only a matter of time to which direction this untimely verbal warfare will lead on. But there is a real fear percolating in the minds of ABSU, BPPF, UDPF and PJACBM that the Committee will turn out to be a replica of the three-member Expert Committee headed by Dr. Bhupender Singh which was set up by the Government of India 1991 to make recommendations for an appropriate administrative structure for the Bodos. The recommendations of the Committee, however, came to be a fatal destruction to the Bodo agitators who had no option but to reject all its contents and recommendations. Such possibility can’t be ruled out from the new expert committee’s recommendations. It will be another unproductive exercise and undue delay in finding an amicable solution to Bodo unrests. Even if the Committee does a wise thing or come out with positive recommendations, the report will hardly be acceptable in the corridors of powers. It will be completely ignored or become a mere subject of contestation from various quarters who are not comfortable with idea of further division of Assam. But the BPF is unlikely reverse its gear as the celebration over the constitution of the expert committee has already began in Kokrajhar.

Nonetheless, there is one pertinent question that remains unanswered. What the Central and State governments have in store to offer to the agitating Bodo leaders? If peace is to become a new currency and development to take place in Bodoland, then it must not shy away from taking a pragmatic and a long term political decision on the vexed issue. What is growing in Bodoland is disappointing against the government’s apathy to political aspirations. The recent wave of agitation in Bodoland is not just a knee-jerk reaction of Telengana. It should be read as an unlocking of people’s desire to sacrifice till the demand for homeland is realised. The demand for Bodoland has been lingering for over four decades due to political inertia. It is unlikely to fade quickly. The Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) formed in February 2003 after the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) gave up their arms struggle is incapable of fulfilling the long political dream of the community. It rather creates a space for further frustrations and dissent that have the potential to trigger another round of violence in the near future.

The NDFB led by Govinda Basumatary has been in ceasefire talks since 2005, yet no consensus has been arrived till now. Ranjan Daimary who heads another group of NDFB has joined the peace bandwagon in the recent past. But, will it produce any desire result or remain hanged imbalance for uncertain periods? Will the government recognised the demands of the outfits or treat them beyond the limits of the Constitution?

Currently, except the Songbijit faction of NDFB, all the major Bodo groups are now in direct talks with the Central government. Therefore, the setting up of another expert committee is uncalled for and looks dubious in its objective. Such a committee is not necessary when the problem is already placed on the negotiation table. The fact is, after 47 years of Bodo agitation the government is still trying to find only a formula to give prescription for some remedies by overlooking the larger political dynamics of Bodo movement. How far this committee, if that really works, it is unlikely to be useful in healing the symptom. It can be assumed as a well designed formula through which government both at the Centre and the State want to douse the political fire that is engulfing Bodoland. Or else, it is an escape route to say ‘no’ to demand for Bodoland. There are genuine grievances in the region which the present political establishment have failed to look into. The region also falls within the geographical map of least developed region in India. Therefore, to finding an alternative political administration is the sole responsibility of the Central government.

The Article 2 of the India Constitution empowers the Parliament has the power to enact law to admit new areas into the Union or establish new states. Again, the Article 3 of the Constitution gives power to the Centre to form a new state by separation of territory from any state or parts of state. Such Constitutional provisions have hardly been explored to address the Bodo problem in the past several decades. This is a clear manifestation of State’s responsibility towards a region which remains one of South Asia’s trouble peripheries. The discriminatory policy adopted while creating Telengana state is demonstrate how the Constitutional provisions have been selectively applied to meet certain political compulsions in certain pockets and thus ignoring the larger question governance in other parts of the country.

For all practical reasons, the much hyped tripartite talk between the representatives Central Government, Assam Government and Bodo leaders is right platform to seek a permanent solution to Assam’s bone of contention. But this is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Finding an answer to the Bodo problem is obviously a daunting task, yet it should not be treated as protracted one. It will definitely require holistic manoeuvring and intervention on the participating groups. Ironically, with the appointment of an expert committee, the Central government is attempting to diminish chances of positive outcome during the tripartite talks.

Can the Central government ignore the language of peace in Bodoland?

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