Of Politics, Conflict and Reconciliation in Bodoland

Monjib Mochahari The Password. 12.07.2015 BU1 - Copy

If all efforts are directed towards liberating the Bodo nation by carving out a separate homeland in India’s Northeast region, it is rather puzzling what makes Bodo leadership to erect constant brickwalls and engage in artificial ideological wars? Isn’t it necessary that their skinned deep ideological difference be cut to size to work in unity while finding a long term solution to Bodo political aspiration?” This is a puzzle that has been haunting the Bodo society more than three decades. No leader is able to solve this cubic enigma. More than from being resolved, the issues and challenges of the community are getting multiplied every pasding day and translating into a mountainous one. Seriously, one must get acquainted with such cruel truths of Assam. And, be flabbergasted by the gory stories of Bodoland, a region in India’s Northeast. In this region, the darkest realities have always been illuminating the heartland for several years. Yes, happened in the past. It is even now. Possibly, the fragile situations will remain until one witness the bright light at the end of the tunnel. For outsiders, this sacred geography of the Bodos is a terrible landscape. But people, like me this landscape is not all about violence, but a biggest systemic failure of Indian democracy and the making of federal states where a section of elites merrily walked into the shoes of the colonial masters soon after India’s independence in 1947. One can’t expect security of life because the law and order situation is at its worst form in Bodoland. It is chaotic vividly visible in every public domains. One never really knows who the next victim is. And, who kills whom, that’s quite a mystery. On one side, there is an aggressive agitation for a separate homeland. On the other side, there is an unquestioned brutal use of state forces to crush the democratic agitation. And, in between, there are frequent fratricides among the Bodo leaderships causing heavy tolls, leaving people to frustration. An “inferno,” as I choose to call it considering the unclean experiences of the people, has engulfed the frontier. Moreoften, people are in shock, double shock to be precise. Of course, you and I, including the strangers are left with perennial emotional heartbeats because the State and its agency have washed off their hands and failed to fix the contentious Bodo issue – a demand for a separate homeland. It is an old demand, which requires a new approach to find mutually acceptable political solution, but the Centre and the State must first speak the language of democracy, human dignity and rights of the indigenous people. If not so, the quest for a territory is too young to die. It is painful. Indeed, an invincible thorn in the flesh, I feel. The chaotic law and order situation has caused over 140 lives in civilians 2008. Between 2007 and 2010 over 250 innocent Bodo people have died. The figure does not include suspected militants killed by the security forces. It continues. Bloods flow out on regular intervals. At least one or two innocent Bodo youths are killed or victimised for unknown reasons, everyday. Someone dies that is what we know. There is no clear explanation to it who is driving this blood game. Ceaseless killings and torturing of youths in the name of fighting insurgency, certainly makes one believe that the entire Bodo community is in a dangerous situation. Shouldn’t Dispur be ashamed of this disastrous situation? In none of those cases of killings, no investigation was initiated. No arrest was made. No culprits sent behind the bards. The fact is – these are peculiar cases of brothers killing their own brothers – a war within? Specifically, one must agreed that the Bodo political uprising is the curtain raiser of all the indigenous/tribal communities who have never enjoyed the fruits of development even after several decades of India’s independence from the colonial masters. In modern Indian state, they lost everything – identity, territory, language, culture and traditions. What is even more dangerous is – illegal immigration from Bangladesh and continued encroachment of tribal lands has pushed them out of their homeland. Currently, the illegal Bengali speaking Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh intermixed with the local Muslim community have become a single largest group constituting over 30 percent of Assam’s total populations of little more than 3 crore. And, they are now the dominant political force able to decide the fate of at least 54 Assembly seats out 126 seats, and seven out 14 parliamentary constituencies in Assam. In Assam, Dispur’s apathy and its ‘Upper Assam’ centric approach towards all aspects of development have betrayed the tribal communities particularly in the tribal concentrated areas. In 21st century Assam, the literacy rate among the tribal communities is less than 50 percent. It is beyond any contention. Does the State really exist? If yes, does it exist only for the upper caste ruling elites? BU Facts are available in different sizes and, not limited to spreadsheets. For instance, the survey recently conducted by influential All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) stuns everyone. It says over 694 Bodo medium schools are single teacher schools. These schools are closed whenever the teachers are on leave or entrusted with other official assignments. Again, 123 ME schools and 57 High Schools are running without mathematics and science teachers, the subjects in which most tribal students fail to perform well during final board examinations. Unfortunately, as many as 81 Bodo Medium LP Schools are functioning without teachers. There are no engines to run the temples education here. At the time of writing this piece, there were more than 860 vacant posts of teachers in Bodo medium LP schools, 470 in ME schools and 228 in High Schools. Dispur knowledge on the pathetic condition is well beyond one’s doubt. For years, ABSU and literary organisation such as – Bodo Sahitya Sabha (BSS) have been consistent demand for an early solution to the challenges of vernacular medium schools. Nothing happened. None of those genuine demands have been met till date. Simply it has given a deaf ear to the issue. What is even more disappointing is that the State government decided to establish new Assamese medium schools in the 2010-11 fiscal years and appointed more new teachers in Assamese schools. Is it a systemic model of discrimination? If Kashmir is to India, so is Bodoland to India. Revolution is bound to happen when one section of the society is left out or robbed of, say, “dignity of living.” Turn the pages of the history books, one will definitely find it. So are the people in the Northeast. Most ethnic unrests in the region, is particularly the culmination of year negligence and alienation by the ruling elites. If we turn the pages of the history, it is established that of all tribal communities in Assam, Bodos were the most political sensitive community. Gurudev Kalicharan Brahma was the first instrumental figure in the formation of the Tribal League in the 1930s which called for emancipation of tribal communities through political participation. It was at his behest that the Bodos, the largest tribe in Northeast region, represented before the Simon Commission to ascertain percentage of seats in the Legislative Assembly and government jobs be reserved for the tribal communities. Similarly, under the leadership of Modaram Brahma and others, the Plains Tribal Council of Assam (PTCA) was formed in 1967, which demanded for a Union Territory called – ‘Udayachal’. However, this movement couldn’t succeed as most of the PTCA leaders were politically co-opted by the State’s political class. At the centre of such movements there was the desire to be liberated from their political entrapment and socioeconomic exploitation and marginalisation of Assam ruling elites who constitute less than five percent of state’s total populations. However, the movement got momentum under the leadership of late Upendra Nath Brahma in 1987-1990. In 1987, as the AASU movement was losing its momentum, he spearheaded the ‘non-violent Bodoland Movement’ to carve out a separate state on the north bank of the River Brahmaputra in Assam. All these movements were democratic and Gandhian in style and characters. However, his political imagination was cut short as he died premature on 1st May 1990. Since the, Bodo society has been without a credible leader to take cause of the community forward. His death created a leadership vacuum which contributed to fight for leadership position who otherwise were expected to walk in the footsteps of UN Brahma. It simply didn’t happen. Struggle for power and position crept in only to destroy the whole idea of unity. One interesting fact one mustn’t overlook is that it was only when democratic approach to their demands showed no tangible results; the movement took a different turn. A section of Bodo youths, who felt betrayed, formed the Boro Security Force (BrSF) in 1986, later renamed as National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) to liberate the Bodo nation through armed revolution. Since then the movement got its undemocratic and Bodos stumbled into the path of fratricides. Again, the failure of 40-member Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC) formed on 20 February 1993, contributed to the birth of another militant group – the Bodoland Liberation Tigers (BLT) in 1996. With it, nemesis revisited the Bodo belts as violence continues to remain the order of the day. It is a self defeat. Moreover, the ‘Bodoland Territorial Council’ (BTC) formed in 2003 under the provision of the Sixth Schedule of Indian Constitution as a closure to the Bodo Agitation, was a great political blunder committed by the Central government. “I do believe neither UN Brahma nor any brave hearts (martyrs) sacrificed their lives for this petty council. Nevertheless, the trophy of the movement has been reduced to bottles where one can easily get drunk and be happy for a while,” says the mother of a Bodoland Martyr in Udalguri district. It was tactical strategy of the Union Government to rehabilitate the angry BLT cadres by showering them financial largesse and through little political space- oxygen to subside tumultuous Bodo movement. It is politically right to argue that an economic package such as BTC or any other autonomous council in Northeast can’t douse the political inferno once and for all. While many Bodo intelligentsia feel that BTC is nothing more than a “pain-relief”. Any settlement through autonomous councils is bound to fail. Such councils are simply a puppetry show handled by the state government itself. It doesn’t even have power to make its own budget without begging from the state government. “Should we be happy with it?’ The past, not-so-glorious eight years of the Council led by Hagrama Mohilary, has produced dismal results in all aspects of development, people say. It was expected that with an annual grant of Rs. 100 crore and budgetary allocation of the State government, it would deliver, but it has miserably delivered too little. Rather it has become a smooth sailing vehicle for quick ‘wealth-hunting exercise’ for a section of people who are under the dirty political clout. Such tendency has not only deprived the Bodo commuity but also other groups who are claiming to be Obodos in recent. There are no signs of tangible improvement of Bodoalnd post BTC creation. Except the Central Institute of Technology and Bodoland University, there is hardly anything we may reckon. It has only given a little space, to a small fraction of Bodo people who are now drowned in the ocean of corruption. A spectacular display of siphoning of public funds seems to be doing the rounds. Frankly, more funds are being drained out to non-productive activities. The only visible achievement as seen everyday is the Councillors have established an unholy nexus between the elected representatives and the contractors. It has already produced breeds of hundreds of unprofessional and unaccountable contractors, right from the capital Kokrajhar to remote villages in Udalguri district who are alleged to be dancing to the tune of public money. I feel, Bodoland deserve to get a Guinness records for this breakthrough. The situation has not yet improved yet. The demand for a homeland is gradually gaining ground as ABSU has revived its demand. Moreover, there is a growing realization in other tribal communities too. Mr Gautam Das from Baksa district says, “Living in BTC can be hellish experience due to numerous factors. The movement has kept as away miles away from socioeconomic development. It is the need of the hour that both the state and the central government give a finishing touch to this contentious issue.” Such micro narratives, although few in numbers reflections of the negligence they are facing from the state government. In all this drama and uncertain political cloud hovering around; neither the Centre nor Dispur can remain blind-folded for too long. It can’t afford to suppress the agitation through deployment of brutal security force, but explore possibility of creating Bodoland under the provisions of Article 2 and 3 of Indian Constitution which says, ‘new states can be created by simple two-third majority in Parliament.’ Nevertheless, the Bodo leadership must sort out the differences instead of engaging in shadow-boxing one another. They must be driven basic political senses that no disunity is created, any further. Equally important is that the fears of other communities living in the proposed Bodoland state must be allayed through internal peace dialogues. Their fears mostly speculative in nature arise out of their non-engagement with the Bodo activists, and partly the failures of Bodo leadership who are too lethargic to take stock of the situations. A big push need to be exerted to break the cycle of mistrust and ideological chasm. Constants fights for political space and supremacy will only take the entire region back to Stone Age. In addition, what is even more important is that a section of leadership must get rid of their gun culture. If not, this will attract more vultures, possibly, in Bodoland. It is a demand that can’t fail, but Bodo leadership itself is failing it because the geography of division is getting precedence even before the political geography is thoroughly conceptualised. [This article was first published in North East Business Reporter in September, 2010. Pp. 46-48. At the time of writing the law and order situation in Bodoland was in its worst form. There was violence everywhere. Someone or the other was dying everyday and the state government did nothing to stop it].

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