Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, 7 February, reached Assam’s Kokrajhar district, where he is slated to participate in celebrations to mark the signing of the Bodo agreement.
The Prime Minister is also likely to address a rally in Bodo-dominated Kokrajhar town of Assam.
But what is the Bodo Accord about?
A day after the 71st Republic Day, the third Bodo Accord, designed to usher in peace in the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD), was signed by the Home Ministry, Assam government, and a range of Bodo stakeholders. This includes various factions of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) who had been leading a violent movement for a separate Bodo state.
NDFB’s Ranjan Daimary, convicted of masterminding the Assam serial blasts in 2008, and the chief of Bodoland Territorial Council Hagrama Mohilary, running the BTAD from 2003, were there. Also present was Pramod Bodo of the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU). All of them gathered in the same room together with Amit Shah, Himanta Biswa Sarma and Sarbananda Sonowal – to give peace the chance they had drafted. This Accord, the third in 27 years, promises to bring in ‘permanent peace’.
- For some of the signatories like Hagrama and Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the motions of signing a peace accord – including displaying victory signs – were almost an exercise in time travel.
- There are many other memories that will be hard to erase, many losses impossible to compensate, and there are many non-Bodo voices that are absent from the accord table.
- Activists like Pramod Bodo insist that fears about the 2020 Accord are unfounded. The absence of armed conflict, they think, will bring in peace.
Where Are the Non-Bodo Voices?
For some of the signatories like Hagrama and Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the motions of signing a peace accord – including displaying victory signs – were almost an exercise in time travel. They did the same in 2003 when the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) led by Hagrama had surrendered, and the BTC was created. Similar to what the 2003 Accord did with the BLT cadres, seventeen years later, the 2020 Accord promises to do the same with the NDFB cadres and rehabilitate them.
Criminal cases against them will be withdrawn. Heinous crimes will be reviewed. Kin of Bodo rebels killed in this struggle will be compensated. New Bodo areas will be brought under the fold of a Bodoland Regional Council, and money will be pumped in for development. In sum, this attempt at peace appears to follow a familiar template. It repeats a process that has been done before. It just rechristens the Bodoland Territorial Council and tries really hard to erase the hard drive of violence, and reboot lives for sustainable peace. A realisation that might be impossible given the accord’s attempt to hear only Bodo voices.
There are many other memories that will be hard to erase, many losses impossible to compensate, and there are many non-Bodo voices that are absent from the accord table.
That’s where fresh trouble is likely to arrive from and derail an already difficult to spot idea of justice. Exactly what happened in 1993 and 2003. The time of the other two peace accords. To resolve tensions, in 1993 the first Bodo Accord signed between the ABSU and Indian government gave rise to the Bodoland Autonomous Council. In the face of violence, it failed to sustain itself beyond a year. In 2003, after unparalleled ethnic violence, the second Accord was signed.
‘Bodo Leadership Must Show Willingness to Reach Out’
However, activists like Pramod Bodo insist that fears about the 2020 Accord are unfounded. The absence of armed conflict, they think, will bring in peace. “This is a hope for peace and a disarmed society after three decades of violence,” he says. Civil society activist Raju Narzary, part of the Bodo delegation also believes that this accord is a game changer. “This region will now be totally free of insurgency”. Rezaul Karim Sarkar, from the All Assam Minority Students Union, has his reservations. “It’s one-sided,” he says, as he points out the absence of any mechanism to compensate Non-Bodos killed in the conflict. “Let Bodo problems be solved, and we are not opposed to their development. But we are worried about our rights. The Bodo leadership has to display willingness to reach out. We don’t want to be second-class citizens.”
Look Back In Anger
“No Bodoland, No Rest”, “Divide Assam 50-50” – these graffiti, in bold colours, are difficult to escape in Kokrajhar, a district in lower Assam, and the seat of the BTC. They capture the spirit of a struggle for protecting Bodo tribal identity and the creation of a separate state. What they don’t reveal is the brutal violence and animosity unleashed by the Bodoland movement. It has destroyed families, uprooted them from their villages, killed people for just being a non-Bodo, and set off a trail of attacks and counter-attacks. For thousands of Indians, non-Bodos and Bodos, the memory of such violence is unsettling. Be it the family of 14-year-old Zakir Ali stoned to death in Kokrajhar in 2012. Or that of 60-year-old Shahadat Hussain shot dead in retaliatory violence or friends and families of four cadres of a former Bodo insurgent outfit, lynched by a mob and their bodies mutilated. All these deaths happened in the same year.
A year when violence spread across Chirang, Baksa, Udalguri and Kokrajhar, when at least 100 lives were lost and at least 400,000 were displaced.
It was also a time when village after village were set on fire, and schools turned themselves into temporary relief camp after relief camp. That year, I travelled through the region as a reporter and witnessed the fear and helplessness that engulfed those who had found refuge in these temporary shelter camps. This violence, however, wasn’t something new to this region, except it was playing a card of driving out ‘illegal migrants’ and reviving the demand for an independent Bodo state.
From One Accord to Another
The Bodos are one of India’s largest ethnic and linguistic groups. By 1987 there was enough anger within the community of being marginalised by the Assamese. The All Bodo Students Union were totally opposed to Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, that gave rise to new rules of citizenship in 1985. The idea of a homogenous Bodo population as a pre-condition for a separate state, injected violence into the struggle. Thus, Adivasis, Santhals, Nepalis, Biharis, Bengali Hindus and Muslims, Koch-Rajbongshis and Assamese – all became targets and were attacked by this movement set to protect its land from Non-Bodo. The violence remained a constant over three decades. Later, the movements focused on the idea that tribal land was being encroached upon by illegal Bangladeshi migrants, and they should be attacked.
This idea has sustained itself and found an ally among the BJP. Such an alliance pushing the Accord has also ensured that NDFB is on the talks table.
“We should not forget mistakes committed in the past. I am not a Christian but there is a saying in the Bible,” says Pramod Bodo. “Hate the sin, not the sinner.”
Can the ‘Tiger’ Of ‘No Bodoland, No Rest’ Be Tranquilised?
On 30 October 2008, a series of ten coordinated bomb blasts ripped across Assam. At least 100 people were killed and 500 injured. One after another, bombs hidden inside cars and motorcycles went off in crowded marketplaces. There was a blast even outside a court in Guwahati. By evening, a crowd insisted that the blasts have been carried out by ‘jihadi’ groups from Bangladesh. That’s what a section of people wanted to believe in. Eleven years later in 2019, a special court convicted Bodo separatist outfit NDFB for the attacks.
For a region that has witnessed many ups and downs, peace efforts and has become inured to violence – it is difficult not to be cynical about this accord despite the assurances of Bodo civil society. For now, “No Bodoland, No Rest” seems to represent a tiger that no one will be able to get off. At best it can be tranquilised from one accord to accord by the men in the room and their politics.
(Arijit Sen is an independent journalist. He tweets @senarijit. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)