GUWAHATI: In the aftermath of the signing of the Bodo Territorial Region (BTR) accord in January, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made an appeal to those wielding the gun in Kashmir and Maoist-hit areas to take a leaf out of the Bodos’ book.
However, the Bodo problem seems to be far from over.
Led by former MP Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary, a group of Bodo intellectuals, former leaders of the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU), and other outfits have formed an organisation called “All India Bodo People’s National League for Bodoland Statehood” to carry forward the statehood movement.
Previously, the autonomous Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) partially administered four districts -- Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa, and Udalguri -- which fell under the Bodoland Territorial Areas Districts (BTAD). BTAD became BTR after the January pact.
The Bodo leaders fear that the BTR pact, which the Centre had signed with the ABSU and some now-disbanded insurgent groups, would finish off the aborigine Bodos. They are perturbed, particularly by the proposed exclusion of over 1,000 villages from the BTR and the government’s move to grant Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to six communities such as Koch-Rajbongshi, Tai-Ahom, Chutia, Matak, Moran, and Tea Tribes.
“We fought to achieve a state by carving land from Sankosh to Sadiya (on the north bank of the Brahmaputra) but we are now on the verge of losing over 1,000 villages from BTR. The government has erected the Chinese wall on the east of Udalguri and as such, we will not be able to include any village we envisaged,” Bwiswmuthiary said.
The BTR agreement says villages adjoining the BTR, where the tribal population is more than 50%, will be included in the BTR. Similarly, the non-tribal majority villages will be excluded from the BTR. Several non-tribal organisations had put up a united fight in the past demanding the exclusion of non-tribal majority villages from erstwhile BTAD.
Stating that there were four ST tribes – Bodo-Kachari, Garo, Rabha, and Hajong – in BTAD, Bwiswmuthiary said the government’s attempt to grant ST status to some “advanced” communities would hurt the interests of the existing STs (plains) of the state.
“We have submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. We said the Bodos are going to meet the fate of the Red Indians in America and the Nazis in Germany. The Europeans had taken control over the land and resources of aborigines Red Indians and destroyed them. Adolf Hitler had conspired and finished the Nazis,” Bwiswmuthiary said, adding, “A policy detrimental to the interests of aborigines ST communities is being adopted and a conspiracy hatched to exterminate them. It is akin to the formulas adopted by Hitler and the Europeans in America”.
He said the Bodos would fight to resist the government’s move to grant ST status to the six communities. Alleging that the BTR was a “bait” to finish off the Bodos, he asked as to why the Bodo civil societies were not taken into confidence prior to the signing of the BTR pact.
“Around 5,000-7,000 Bodos had lost their lives in the democratic and insurgency movements. We will continue to fight until the last man standing. Given the conspiracy hatched against us, we feel we will be safe only if we can achieve a separate state. We have to resume the statehood movement,” the former MP said.
The Bodoland statehood movement has its genesis in the 1967 demand by the Bodos – largest plains tribe of the Northeast – for carving a Union Territory named Udayachal out of Assam. The demand was raised by the Plains Tribal Council following the realisation that tribal blocks and belts notified by the British were being acquired by rich immigrant landlords. Over the past 50 years, the Bodos waged both democratic and armed movements which saw the creation of Bodoland Autonomous Council in 1993, BTC in 2003 and BTR. A section of them is still waging the armed struggle.