The massacre of 32 Bengali-speaking Muslims by suspected Bodo militants in Assam’s Kokrajhar and Baksa districts on Friday is a glaring example of not only intelligence failure on the part of State and Central government agencies but also a culmination of a series of events, which if checked by the Assam government, could have been avoided. Though the Congress has blamed Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi for his April 19 speech at Bongaigaon, adjacent to Kokrajhar, in which he had charged the ruling Congress in Assam of “dividing Bodo and non-Bodos”, the killings have nothing to do with it.
The Assam police at first charged the anti-talks faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) without even verifying the facts on the ground. The NDFB on Saturday denied any hand in the massacre. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is elected to the Rajya Sabha from Assam, said, “The attacks are cowardly attempts to spread fear and terror among our citizens. The government stands committed to fighting terror in all its forms.” However, even a layman staying in Assam could have predicted this violence if one analysed the recent statements of Bodo leaders and knew the socio-economic realities in the Bodoland Territorial Areas Districts (BTAD).
Former minister and leader of Bodo People’s Front (BPF) Pramila Rani Brahma said two days ago that Muslims had voted in favour of Naba Sarania aka Hira, a former ULFA commander, who contested as an independent, and that BPF nominee and transport minister Chandan Brahma might lose from Kokrajhar. No non-Bodo has ever been elected from this constituency though the Bodo tribals comprise only 22 per cent of the electorate. Moreover, the BPF this time did not nominate Sansuma Bwismuthiary, who was elected six times from this seat. He is contesting as an independent. Another strong candidate who contested is Urkhao Gwra Brahma of Bodoland People’s Public Forum.
As such, with the division of Bodo votes and consolidation of Assamese and Bengali ones, both Hindu and Muslim, Hira is likely to sail through as they had put him up as their nominee from United People’s Front.
Sources said that enraged over the sure defeat the Bodo Militants Party, a faction of which had surrendered but retained their arms, carried out this massacre in vengeance. The violence in BTAD is nothing new as a riot had taken place in August 2012 in which 77 people, mainly Bengali Muslims were killed and more than five lakh people were rendered homeless.
The Assam Government then too had failed to take any action and BPF had blamed “Bangladeshi Muslims” for engineering the riots. The BPF is part of the coalition with Congress and has an electoral alliance too. However, the real reason behind the clashes between Bodos and non-Bodos is the fight for land.
Clashes between Bodo and Muslim settlers have taken place earlier also. The first recorded one was in 1952. Clashes later erupted in 1993, 1994 and again in 2008.
There have also been inter-tribal clashes between the Bodos and Santhals. In 1998, there were widespread clashes, with the Santhals at the receiving end. Thousands of Santhals had to flee their hearths and homes and take shelter in relief camps.
The land hunger of the Bengali Muslims leads them to grab land by encroaching on reserve forests and wild life sanctuaries. The Bodos resent and resist this and try to dislodge them. This leads to clashes. In fact, the Bodos do not want non-Bodos to live in their territory but they understand this is not possible and have sullenly reconciled themselves to this reality. There is a widespread misconception outside Assam that the Bengali Muslims are all Bangladeshis and therefore illegal migrants. The forefathers of these Muslims migrated from East Bengal, East Pakistan and later from Bangladesh and settled in Assam. They are all Indian citizens.
According to the Indo-Bangladesh Agreement, all persons coming to Assam from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971 (the day Bangladesh declared independence) will be treated as illegal immigrants and deported. With militarisation of politics in BTAD and the Assam Government as well as the UPA remaining a mute spectator such armed clashes are inevitable and if Hira succeeds in going to the Lok Sabha more violence is expected as the populace in the region is polarised between Bodos and non-Bodos.