By Monjib Mochahari
The making of a nation-state in India is still an incomplete process as the large section of the country’s population, particularly the indigenous and tribal communities continue to live on the periphery of socio-economic underdevelopment in absence of inclusive and equitable policies. Of course, creation of new state(s) for an effective governance, is an ineluctable democratic tadition. The regions which remain backward, even after more than sixty years of independence, must be given a top priority in remaking of country’s political boundaries for effective governance. However, the Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, his political brigadiers and elite members of the civil society do not subscribe to this noble idea of bringing about an equitable development of all tribal communities, and therefore do not wish to witness redrawing of Assam’s political geography. This has been quite clear from Gogoi’s political briefing on various statehood demands by different communities across Assam. On 9 August 2013, he urged all ethnic minorities to unite and rejected demands for separate statehood. He said, “I am not going to divide Assam. We may be Rabhas, Karbis, Bodos, Chutias, Gorkhas but we all need to live together as Assamese under one umbrella in the State of Assam from Sadiya to Dubri.” It is not difficult to judge that his statement can’t be taken as a liberal political complexion and a dream for disingenuous socialism. Such flimsy arguments deserve no less excoriation.
Gogoi’s cacophonic exclamation of harmonious Assamese society is nothing more than a figment of imagination given the volatile and complex political situations that exist in Assam today. Such kind of an unseasoned melancholic whispering from the rooftop, which rather deserve to be called a tongue twisting exercise, for sure, cannot lobotomise the hundreds of tribal agitators who are shouting for the constitutional rights, protection of identity, land and economic resources. What is obvious at this moment is that the Chief Minister has neither enough courage to attend the issue nor wants the Central government to take a political decision to tackle the prevailing political dystopia resulting from cycles of ethnic unrests since the past several decades.
The present political history of the State tells us that Gogoi’s tenure as the Chief of Minister has been marked by series of ethnic confrontations particularly in the tribal areas namely Karbi Anglong, NC Hills, Udalguri, Goalpara and Kokrajhar districts where the majority of the victims were the tribal communities. Probably, the Assam Chief Minister is the only one during who whose rule highest number of ethnic confrontation occurred in the entire country. Abdication of state’s responsibility towards tribal communities, if not others, is distinctly manifested in all these conflicts. This depicts a myopic thinking of the ruling elites who have least interest on the uplift of deprived communities particularly the Bodos who have been demanding for a separate state for over four decades.
The development disparity that exists between the tribal and non-tribal communities in the State is huge and unimaginable – a fact that even the bureaucrats in Delhi find hard to believe that no development is actually taking place in the tribal areas of Assam. The bourgeois politics at Dispur in the past sixty have done too little for socio-economic improvement of the tribal communities.
Even in the 21-Century Assam, there is not enough oxygen for the tribal communities. Precisely, the deprivation of constitutional rights, lack of socio-economic opportunities and exploitation of their lands and economic resources etc continue to threaten their very existence as distinct communities. A large-scale illegal immigrants and continued encroachment of Tribal Belts and Blocks is another serious challenge to people at the margins – the Bodos. At least 90 per of the population in region are dependent on agriculture and allied activities, but today at least 70 per cent of the total Bodo population do not own lands. At least 80 per cent of Bodos live below poverty line (BPL). These statistics speak the present status of the Bodo community.
The discriminatory policies adopted by the successive state government continue to truncate socio-economic prosperity of the community. As for example, Sivsagar district alone, having just eight lakh populations has more than 15 provincialised colleges, whereas the BTAD area with over thirty-one lakh population has only 19 pronvicialised colleges. The appointment of Assamese teachers in Bodo medium schools outside BTC, non- provincialisation of large number of ventured Bodo medium schools, rejection of demand for a separate directorate for Bodo medium schools, etc are some of the potent albatross created by the state apparatus to contain tribal empowerment.
Currently the average literacy among the Bodos is just little over 40 per cent though the literacy rate in Assam is 72.19 percent. Sadly, the literacy rate among Bodo women is hardly 10 to 15 per cent. On the other hand, the deployment of paramilitary forces, in the name of containing insurgency continues to victimise even those who are not party to it. According to unofficial estimates, at least 500 innocent Bodo youths were been killed in fake encounter between 2009 and 2013. Hundreds of Bodo youths are being languished in various jails across the state with no trials for reasons unknown to many. Military and police atrocities on innocent people of this community keep on happening repeatedly. Why such a systematic annihilation process being initiated against the Bodos just for seeking their political rights given in the Indian Constitution? Can the government give an answer to this pertinent question?
It is this context of underdevelopment, violation of fundamental rights; socio-economic inequalities, insecurity of life and resources of the community, a new political arrangement is ineluctable for all communities living on the north bank of river Brahmaputra covering all the thirty-three tribal Belts and Block areas.
The demand for an ethnic territory, “Bodoland” can be seen not as an attempt to escape from the present political system, but a search for an alternative democratic political space to ensure equitable development and human security for all the communities in the proposed state. The demand has been lingering for past forty-six years due to non-recognition by the government. If a particular ethnic community willing to assert to govern themselves and thinking for the welfare of the community for the present and the future, then it should be the utmost responsibility of the government to recognised and honour their political rights under the provision of Article 2 and 3 of the Constitution.
The intensification of Bodo movement is not a direct reaction to post-Telengana decision but a groundswell, unlocking people’s potential for more aggressive campaign for a separate homeland. The firm stand of the government at both the Centre and the State stand – “no more division of Assam” is rather a short-sight vision that will complicate the contentious Bodo enigma. Unwillingness to engage in pragmatic political dialogues to find an amicable and long-term solution to the debacle leaves a room for escalation of tensions in the Bodo heartland in the course of time. The much hype tripartite talks look deceptive. It lacks directives.