NEW DELHI: A key Bodo students' organisation and a rebel group that has joined the peace process have issued a virtual warning to the BJP that it would lose the support of the Bodo community if its governments at the Centre and in Assam fail to take concrete steps for creation of Bodoland before the 2019 elections.
However, both the Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF), an alliance partner in the BJP-led coalition in Assam; and the state government sought to downplay the threat.
After the 2016 assembly polls, with 60 lawmakers in the 126-member house in Assam, the BJP formed the government along with the Asom Gana Parishad that won 14 seats and the BPF-- the lone Bodo political party-- that bagged 12 seats.
The BPF said it will continue to support the BJP and stressed that a separate Bodoland was not an issue for it.
However, the influential All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Progressive), the first militant group to give up arms and join the peace process, have vowed to defeat the saffron party if it did not take concrete steps for a separate state for the Bodos before the 2019 polls.
The ABSU and the NDFB (P) accused the BJP of giving "false assurances" and alleged that it was not even ready to talk on the issue of Bodoland.
However, ABSU president Pramod Bodo said the BJP had time till April 2019 to solve the Bodoland issue if it wants to get the support of the Bodo community.
"They (BJP) can expect the support of Bodos but only if they fulfil our demand of a separate Bodoland. They must take some concrete steps in this regard before April (2019)," Bodo told PTI.
"They should stop mocking the genuine aspirations of the Bodos," he added. The demand for a separate state of Bodoland started in 1967. The struggle became an armed conflict in the late 80s after the formation of the Bodo Security Force, a militant group later rechristened as NDFB.
Currently, two factions of the NDFB-- NDFB (P) led by Gobinda Basumatary and NDFB (R) led by Ranjan Daimary-- are involved in peace talks with the Centre, while NDFB (S) is against holding talks under the constitutional framework.
The Bodo Territorial Area Districts comprising Kokrajhar, Udalguri, Baksa and Chirang has one Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha seats.
Bodo, who revived the Bodoland movement in 2016 alleging government's "lack of interest", said areas inhabited by the Bodos continue to remain neglected under the current BJP regime just like the previous Congress rule.
"Bodos consist of 12 per cent of Assam's population but get only 3-4 per cent of the financial budget. No new industry has been set up and no new jobs have been created for the Bodo youths even now," he claimed.
Corroborating his views, Basumatary said ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had made a promise of creating a separate Bodo state.
However, that promise was yet to be fulfilled, he added.
"If they fail to do anything in the remaining months, they should not expect any support from the Bodo community," he said.
However, Assam's Finance Minister and senior BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma said the ABSU was only a student organisation and any discussion on separate Bodoland will be held with the BPF only.
"ABSU is a student organisation. Our political alliance is with BPF and we will fight elections together. Our political interface and interactions are with BPF only in Bodo politics," Sarma said.
Biswajit Daimary of the BPF who is a member of the Rajya Sabha said that the BPF does not have any agenda of a separate statehood and it will continue to support the BJP in the upcoming general elections.
"The BPF has one agenda and that is the development of the Bodo people and we have been working for it," Daimary said, adding that supporting the BJP during elections was not the prerogative of a students' body like ABSU.
He asked ABSU if it has any plans to enter mainstream politics.
Basumatary said the BPF was only concerned about being in power and not the welfare of the Bodo people, therefore, supporting the BJP was its top priority.
"ABSU and NDFB(P) are concerned about the Bodo people and hence will support who cares for the tribe," Basumatary said warning the BJP and the BPF not to undermine their reach and influence.
Meanwhile, Hira Sarania, a member of Lok Sabha who won as an Independent from Kokrajhar, too said the unity among ABSU, NDFB(P) and other Bodo groups was "quite strong" and could easily influence Bodo votes.