By Monjib Mochahari
A Gandhi’s poster and India’s flag affront the indefinite hunger strike in Kokrajhar town, has its own message. Is the government reading it? This a call for peaceful liberation of the Bodos from the political entrapment of Indian state Assam where tribal communities have a very little say in the political affairs of the states.
An indefinite mass hunger strike for Bodoland enters third day. “This fight will continue till we see Bodoland in India’s geopolitical map,” says youth who is participating in the strike organized in Kokrajhar town. Three influential Bodo organizations – All Bodo Students’ Union, National Democratic Front of Boroland and People’s Joint Action Committee for Boroland Movement are leading the strike calling for an immediate for political solution to the long standing demand for complete bifurcation of Assam into two states.
At least seven thousand people, including women from across the region have participated on the first day of the strike. Heavy rains couldn’t stop people from flocking to the venue. It is growing in numbers on the third day. Physical weakness is seen in everyone’s face. They have taken neither food nor water in past two days – but firm on their decision. People are willing to fast unto death till the Union government initiate a political dialogue on the issue that has been lingering for over six decades in India’s federal state – Assam.
Regional political player, Bodoland People’s Front which shares power with BJP in Dispur and also governs the 46-member Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), is however not in the vicinity although most of the present BPF’s members were leaders of the erstwhile Bodo Liberation Tiger Forces (BLT), an armed group which demanded for creation of a separate Bodo homeland between 1996 and 2000.
Since the late 1980s, over ten thousand people have died in the agitation, but peace is still illusive. Two peace accords were reached in 1993 and 2003, but failed as the demand for political autonomy is not event part of the peace accords. “The BTC accord with BLTF reached in February 2003 didn’t address this demand for separation of Assam into two states instead created a dysfunctional territorial council which cannot even fulfill the basic socioeconomic aspirations of over four million populations living in four districts under its jurisdiction,” says a former influential leader in Udalguri district.
“After BJP came to power in the Center not a single meaningful dialogue was held although the party promised to look into the matter during the last general elections in 2014. Nothing has happened yet,” says another activist who has been associated with ABSU for over three decades. Armed revolutionary group, NDFB entered into ceasefire with Indian government in 2005.
After twelve years, political dialogue with the outfit is to take off. “The Union government has neither honoured the demand nor serious about finding a long term solution to the issue. The government is simply testing our patience in the ceasefire camp. Moreover, the successive state government has only shown its smartness in opposition to the peaceful settlement of the demand. We will not give up nor will surrender to the ill political game plan of the Centre,” feels a NDFB leader.
The demand for political autonomy is significant politically, economically and even in terms of governance. It is a proposed state consisting of areas located in the extreme north on the north bank of the Brahmaputra River in Assam, by the foothills of Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. The region is predominantly inhabited by over two million indigenous Bodo people. Currently the map of Bodoland overlaps BTC and other parts covering over twenty-five thousands square kilometres.
“This region is one of the poorest regions in India. All communities, including tribal and non-tribal are equally deprived off by the successive state and the central governments. While Upper Assam region which has produced almost all Chief Minister since 1947 – is better off due to its oil and tea industries and implementation of various government schemes in the past several decades. Most development schemes – whether setting up industries, academic institutions or colleges, it is the upper Assam which always gets priority. The lower Assam particularly the Bodoland region however is always placed in the footnote of development map. Look at the recent Assam budget there is hardly anything for people in the region,” feels one assistant professor associated with Bodoland University, Kokrajhar. “It is the only University in the entire region. How can people develop when there is a total abdication of state responsibilities towards this huge region having over ten million populations,” he argues.
The demand for a separate homeland is contested in politics and academics as the exclusive demand of the community, and thus overlooking the development aspirations in the entire region. “It is not just the Bodo community, but all communities who continue to experience state apathy when it comes to development. Bodo community, which is the largest group in the entire Northeast India, only gets the blame for speaking the language of development, political autonomy and illegal Bangladeshi immigrants who are endangering the local communities across Assam. This demand is for all, people have to realize it soon than later. Non-tribal communities who oppose our demands have two choices – either they extend support or face the music of illegal immigrants who will one day occupy their lands inch by inch,” says an academician in Gauhati University.
“Every community wants to be recognized as “tribal” in Assam today, but not a single non-tribal community, including the political class wants to see socioeconomic and political emancipation of present tribal communities in the state,” laments a tribal intellectuals who is seriously concerned about the demand for schedule tribe status by six-non tribal communities in Assam.
“They can’t keep on forming fragile groups such as Oboros and resist the demand of the region. Political solution to Bodo demand is in the nation’s interest. If this is not fulfilled at the earliest various forms agitation will engulf the region in the days to come, as you can see now taking place in Kokrjahar now,” says another youth who is pursuing his post graduate study on peace and conflict studies.
A Gandhi’s poster and India’s flag affront the hunger strike, has its own message. Is the government reading it? It isn’t just a mental illusion, but a call for peaceful liberation of the Bodos from the political entrapment of Indian state Assam where tribal communities have little say in the affairs of the states.