GUWAHATI: From waging a war against the government as the leader of an insurgent organisation to heading an autonomous district council, Niranjan Hojai’s life has come a full circle.
Rebels giving up arms to head constitutional bodies and turning into lawmakers has become a trend in the Northeast. The precedent was set by former Mizo rebel leaders. In Assam, the former Bodo insurgents too followed suit.
Last week, Hojai was chosen to head the BJP-led Executive Council of the Dima Hasao Autonomous Council (DHAC). The BJP wrested power in the council from the Congress by engineering the defection of some ruling members. The 30-member council has 28 elected members and two are nominated by the Governor. Hojai got elected as an Independent candidate in 2013, and joined the BJP subsequently.
The Congress had then won 10 seats and formed the council with the support of nine out of 18 Independent candidates. The BJP had drawn a blank in the polls, but managed to bring seven Independents to its fold last year. Eleven more members, including some from the Congress, joined the party earlier this month, helping it to raise its tally to 18.
Hojai was the commander-in-chief of the now disbanded Dima Halam Daoga (Jewel faction), which was popularly known as the Black Widow. The outfit had unleashed a reign of terror by taking advantage of the North Cachar Hills (now Dima Hasao) district’s geography. The militant group disbanded in 2010 following a peace accord with the government.
Hojai was charge-sheeted by the National Investigation Agency in a case in 2009. A year later, the agency arrested him in Nepal and booked him under various provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. He was the prime accused in the militant-politician-bureaucrat nexus that engineered siphoning off crores of rupees meant for the development of the district. A portion of the amount was allegedly diverted to the coffers of the outfit, which utilised the money to procure weapons.
Following his election as the Chief Executive Member of DHAC, Hojai said his priority would be the development of Dima Hasao district. “My primary step is to give relief to the employees of the council, whose salaries have been pending for a long time. I shall do my best to develop the district,” he told reporters.
Like Hojai, Hagrama Mohilary, who heads the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), was previously the chief of the insurgent group, Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT). The BLT shunned violence in 2003 after a peace accord with the government.
The accord led to the creation of the BTC and Mohilary’s election as its chief. He has continued in the post ever since, as a consequence of the victory of his party, Bodoland People’s Front, in subsequent BTC elections. The BTC looks after development in the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD), which comprises four western Assam districts. Both BTC and DHAC are self-governing bodies under the provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
The likes of Hojai and Mohilary have only sustained a trend that was started by Mizoram’s first Chief Minister, Pu Laldenga. As the founder of the Mizo National Front (MNF), he led a secessionist movement seeking independence of the Mizo territory from India. The MNF’s guerrilla war continued for 16 years until a peace accord with the Centre was signed on June 30, 1986, that led to Mizoram’s attainment of statehood on February 20, 1987.
The MNF, which had formed the first government, is now the state’s principal opposition party. Laldenga died in 1990. His deputy during the days of armed struggle, Zoramthanga, also served as the Chief Minister from December 1998 to December 2008. In fact, incumbent Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla of the Congress, too, is a former rebel leader.
There are several other former rebel leaders in the Northeast who went on to become ministers and MLAs. Heera Sarania—a former ‘commander’ of the United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa)—now represents Kokrajhar in the Lok Sabha. Some of Mohlilary’s aides in the erstwhile BLT had served as ministers before the BPF’s fallout with the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government.
In Tripura, Khagendra Jamatia, the fisheries minister in the Manik Sarkar-led Left Front government, is a former leader of the All Tripura Tiger Force. Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl, who led a 10-year-long violent struggle as the chief of Tripura National Volunteers seeking to drive out the Bengalis from Tripura, is now the leader of Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra. He has also served as an MLA in the past.