Celebrations ensued among the Bodo people following the signing of a peace accord between the Indian government and the much-dreaded insurgent group National Democratic Front of Bodoland and other factions calling for secessionism. This accord stands out because it successfully brings together the leading stakeholders under one framework.
Who are Bodos?
- Bodos are a Tibeto-Burmese speaking ethnic group in Assam.
- They are the single largest community in Assam, making up over 5-6% of the state’s population.
- These people are recognised as a plains tribe in the sixth schedule of the Indian constitution.
What is the Bodo issue?
- Bodos have controlled large parts of Assam in the past and have a long history of secessionist demands, marked by armed struggle.
- In 1966-67, a tribal outfit called the Plains Tribals Council of Assam demand for a separate state called Bodoland.
- In 1987, the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) renewed the demand. Under the leadership of Upendra Nath Brahma, this faction called for the division of Assam.
- The Assam Movement (1979-85) led to the signing of the Assam Accord that resulted in the Indian government promising safety and protection of the “Assamese people”. This, in turn, made Bodos launch a protest to protect their own identity.
- The demand for a separate state for Bodos had been an issue in Assam for about five decades with the rising Bodo militant groups and increasing political agitations and violence.
What were the previous accords related to Bodo militancy?
- The 1987 ABSU-led movement led to the 1993 Bodo Accord, which resulted in the establishment of the Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC) with limited political powers. However, ABSU withdrew its agreement and renewed its demand for a separate state.
- Later the militant group, Bodo Liberation Tiger Force (BLTF), signed the 2003 Bodo Accord with the Centre and the state government.
- This resulted in the formation of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).
What is BTC?
- The increasing agitation for the creation of a Bodoland had led to an agreement between the Centre, Assam State government and the Bodo Liberation Tiger Force (BTLF) in 2003.
- This agreement resulted in the formation of the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC).
- It is an autonomous administrative unit that was established under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian constitution.
- It comes under the jurisdiction of the Assam Government.
- It governs four districts of Assam – Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri, covering 11% of Assam’s territory and consisting of 10% of its population.
Who is NDFB?
- In October 1986, a militant group called the Bodo Security Force (BdSF) was established by Ranjan Daimary.
- The BdSF was later renamed as the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) that is designated as a terrorist organisation by the Indian government.
- This militant group has often targeted non-Bodo civilians and security forces in Assam.
- It especially targeted the tribes whose ancestors have been brought to Assam as tea labourers during the British regime.
- Since 2000, the NDFB has mostly targeted Bangladeshi migrants in the areas where they claim to be the Bodo territory.
- NDFB, in 2008, was divided into two factions:
- NDFB (P)
- NDFB (R)
- While NDFB (P) is led by Gobinda Basumatary, NDFB (R) is under the leadership of Ranjan Daimary.
- The NDFB (P) initiated talks with the Union government in 2009.
- In 2010, the Bangladesh government arrested Ranjan Daimary and handed him over to the Indian government. He was granted bail in 2013.
- Subsequently, NDFB (R) too started peace negotiations with the Indian government.
- In 2012, NDFB (R) disintegrated to form another faction called NDFB (S) under the leadership of Ingti Kathar Songbijit. The new faction was against peace talks with the government.
- In 2015, Songbiji was removed from the leadership post and was followed by B.Saoraigwara. NDFB (S) was the last major active group in the Bodo insurgency.
- Later, NDFB (S), NSCN-K and ULFA came under the common platform called United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia.
- NDFB (S) is active in Myanmar along with other Northeast insurgent groups.
- Songbijit, himself a Karbi and not a Bodo, is said to have started his own militant group.
Who were the signatories of the recent Bodo Accord?
- To bring permanent peace in Bodo-dominated areas in Assam, the government signed a tripartite agreement with the four factions of NDFB, All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) and the United Bodo People’s organisation (UBPO).
- The four NDFB factions are NDFB (Dhiren Bodo), NDFB (Progressive), NDFB (Ranjan Daimary) and NDFB (S).
- This agreement mainly focuses on a truce with the four factions of the NDFB after decades of armed conflict that led to the death of over 4,000 people.
- This agreement aims to provide for a comprehensive and final solution to the demands of these factions while keeping the territorial integrity of the State of Assam intact.
- The government stated that this accord brought a permanent end to demands for a separate state.
- However, an ABSU leader countered this statement by saying that the accord did not mention anything about the ABSU ceasing its demand for statehood.
What did the accord say about the territory?
- The area under the BTC’s jurisdiction was called Bodo Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD).
- In the 2020 Accord, the BTAD was renamed as BTR – Bodoland Territorial Region.
- The new accord provides for “alteration of the area of BTAD” and “provisions for Bodos outside BTAD”.
- A commission will be set up by the state government to examine and recommend if villages near BTAD with a majority tribal population can be included into the BTR while those now in BTAD and with a majority of the non-tribal population can opt-out of the BTR. This can lead to an increase in the Bodo population in the BTR and decrease in the non-tribal population in the same, resulting in mitigation of inter-community clashes in the future.
What are the other provisions under the 2020 agreement?
- The government will set up a Bodo-Kachari Welfare Council for focused development for Bodo villages outside BTAD.
- The new accord is an extension of what was already in effect. For instance, it provides for more legislative, executive, administrative and financial powers to BTC and amendments to the sixth schedule of the constitution to “improve the financial resources and administrative powers of BTC”
- The 2020 agreement also states that the Assam government “will modify Bodo language in Devanagiri script as the associate language of the state”
What will happen to the cases filed during the armed movement?
- The new accord states that criminal cases for “non-heinous” crimes shall be withdrawn and those in connection with heinous crimes “shall be reviewed case by case according to the existing policy on the subject”.
- The agreement states that the heinous crimes will be reviewed and that justice should not be throttled in the name of “peace”.
- The centre and the state government will take the necessary steps to rehabilitate the surrendered cadres, such as ex-gratia, funding economic activities, vocational training and recruitment in appropriate government jobs.
Opting for peace negotiations rather than armed military operations is a step in the right direction. This is because, in the past years, undertaking peace talks with the militant groups, promoting economic development and ensuring rehabilitation of the insurgents have proven to an efficient long-term solution for the insurgency problems faced by India and the military counter-attack has only furthered the violence and popular support for the militant groups.
Peace, and not arms, is the solution for insurgency in India. Elucidate with Bodo peace talks as an example. (250 words).