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Kokrajhar Attack: Sonowal Must Tackle Insurgency, not Immigration

Instead of raking up the immigration issue, Sonowal’s govt should focus on insurgency, writes Chandan Nandy.

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The newly-elected Sarbananda Sonowal government in Assam appears to have floundered in its first test on internal security. A faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit) struck on Friday, killing 13 civilians and injuring over 20, in the state’s Kokrajhar district which has had a history of inter-ethnic violence.

Having won the Assam assembly polls with a crushing majority, the first task before Sonowal’s ruling BJP should have been anti-insurgency operations, especially when the well-armed NDFB(S), whose cadres number nearly 300 men, has consistently opposed peace talks with the Centre and the state government.

Sonowal’s first statement after being sworn-in as Assam’s first BJP chief minister was that his administration would be focused on the vexed and controversial issue of Bangladeshi immigrants although the threat from militancy has not receded.

While a major faction of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), led by Arabinda Rajkhowa, is engaged in a tripartite peace with the Centre and the state government, the NDFB(S) has continued to hold out, defying the security forces operating in the state. Led by Ingti Kathar Songbijit, this NDFB faction sprang from a split in the parent body led by Ranjan Daimary (aka D R Nabla) who launched the organisation in 1988 with a call for a “sovereign Bodoland”.

Also read: 15, Including 2 Ultras, Dead in Kokrajhar; PM Condemns Attack

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Instead of raking up the  immigration issue, Sonowal’s govt should focus on insurgency, writes Chandan Nandy.
Security personnel in action after unidentified terrorists armed with assault rifles and grenades attacked a market at Kokrajhar in Assam, 5 August, 2016. (Photo: PTI)
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Splintered NDFB

Initially, the Songbijit-led splinter group was called NDFB (ATF – anti-talks faction). He styled himself as its “commander” after he was elected in November 2012 to lead the group opposed to negotiations. A nine-member “national council” took political decisions. But in 2015, Songbijit was ousted and a new national council led by B Saoraigwra, heading the insurgent group as president, was established.

The NDFB(S), which is active in Bongaigaon, Kokrajhar, Dhubri, Darrang, Barpeta, Nalbari and Sonitpur districts, has a “close working relationship” with the rump ULFA led by its “commander-in-chief” Paresh Barua. The insurgent outfit uses the Manas National Park bordering Bhutan as a sanctuary, but is also suspected to have bases in the Eastern Naga Hills in Myanmar.

Friday’s strike appears to have been in response to the Assam police’s operation that nabbed four NDFB(S) insurgents in Kokrajhar on 3 August. The insurgent group was hit by the security forces on 15 July when a joint army-police team killed two militants in the district dominated by Bodos.
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Past Peace Moves

While the ceasefire between the Centre, the state government and the NDFB (Progressive) came into effect in June 2005, a tripartite cessation of operations against the faction led by Daimary was signed on 29 November, 2013. But when the outfit split, Songbijit continued with terrorist activities, targeting adivasis such as the Santhals, Oraons and Mundas besides Muslims suspected to be Bangladeshi immigrants settled in some of the districts that NDFB(S) operates in.

Even as hundreds of militants belonging to several insurgent groups such as the ULFA, NDFB, Karbi National Volunteer, Rabha National Security Force and the Bodo Liberation Tigers have in the past surrendered their weapons and settled for dialogue with the Centre and the state government, the NDFB(S) has continued its violent ways. While the overall law and situation in Assam has improved considerably over the last 15 years, insurgency of the kind practiced by the NDFB(S) is certainly a reflection of the deep antipathies that exist between ethnic communities in certain parts of Upper Assam.

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Instead of raking up the  immigration issue, Sonowal’s govt should focus on insurgency, writes Chandan Nandy.
Army personnel check bags left by a group of militants in Kokrajhar terror attack, 5 August, 2016. (Photo: IANS)
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Aim for a Political Solution

Ethnically fragile Kokrajhar is part of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) which was an outcome of the Assam government’s decision to devolve power with the objective of curbing insurgency and inter-ethnic violence. While Kokrajhar, administrative headquarters of the BTC, and its adjoining areas (Baksa, Udalguri and Chirang) have returned legislators of the Bodoland People’s Front to the state assembly since 2009, the BJP’s alliance with the party (along with the AGP) ensured a thumping victory. Over 70 percent of Bodos backed the BJP-BPF alliance.

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Three-Pronged Strategy

The political-electoral alliance enjoins upon the BJP and Sonowal to take three crucial decisions, especially after today’s massacre. First, the Sonowal government must follow a two-pronged approach to deal with insurgency and development. While anti-insurgency operations must be intensified against the NDFB(S), it must also encourage the militant outfit to surrender arms so that a political solution, which is more desirable, could be reached to resolve the issue of insurgency. The security of non-Bodos should be as important as that of other Assamese people.

Second, the BPF must play a proactive role aimed at addressing the political question, if any. Finally, the BJP, instead of creating a potentially volatile situation by focusing on the controversial issue of immigration must tackle the clear and present danger posed by the NDFB(S)’s brand of insurgency.

Also read:
15, Including 2 Ultras, Dead in Kokrajhar; PM Condemns Attack

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Topics:  Sarbanand Sonowal 

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