THE MOVEMENT for a separate state for the Bodo community has resumed in Assam with the All Bodo Students’ Union saying it waited more than two-and-a-half years for a “positive response” from the Centre after the BJP came to power.
“We waited for nearly half the term of the BJP-led government to get a positive response. We did have two meetings with Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who in turn referred us to R N Ravi, but nothing encouraging has happened so far,” said Pramod Boro, president of the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) said.
ABSU, which has with it the NDFB(Progressive) faction led by Gobinda Basumatary as well as the People’s Joint Action Committee for Bodoland Movement (PJACBM), has organised a national highway blockade, a state highways blockade and an economic shutdown in the Bodoland autonomous districts in the past one month. With no response from the Centre or the state government, it has now announced a railway blockade on October 24.
No major political party in Assam is in favour of dividing the state. Though the BJP took the support of ABSU in the 2014 elections and also sought its support in the 2016 assembly election, its manifesto in 2016 only promised “well-drawn, time-bound programmes for development of different tribal communities of the state”.
The Congress too is against statehood. Like the BJP, it supports the move to grant ST status to six other communities without harming the interests of the existing ST groups including the Bodos. The AGP, now an ally of the BJP, is silent on the Bodo demand but extends “full support” to granting ST status to six other communities.
“The ABSU was the first to have announced its direct support to the BJP in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election. We did that despite being a student body just because Rajnath Singh, then BJP president, requested us. Though the BJP-led government practically kept ignoring us, we took a neutral stand in the 2016 election with the hope of some response,” the ABSU president told The Indian Express.
ABSU, which had spearheaded the movement from 1987, “suspended” it after the subsequent NDA government signed the Bodo Accord with the Bodoland Liberation Tigers (BLT), leading to creation of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) in 2003.
“The Bodo Accord and BTC have proved insufficient for protecting the identity of the Bodo people. We have not rejected it but we strongly feel creation of a separate state is the only way to ensure protection of the Bodo identity,” Boro said.
ABSU as well as NDFB(P) leaders allege that it is because the Centre has ignored their demands that there has been an “alarming” increase in illegal arms and ammunition in the Bodoland districts. “Illegal weapons are finding their way into the districts and armed groups continue to attract Bodo youth to the jungles,” Pramod Boro said. “We have pointed this out to the government so many times. When we met the home minister before the assembly elections, he once again only sought our support, but showed no interest in listening to our grievances.”
The NDFB(P) faction led by Govinda Basumatary and NDFB(R) led by founder chairman Ranjan Daimary have held a series of discussions with P C Haldar, the central interlocutor, with nothing concrete emerging out of the process.
“We have held at least 40 rounds of discussions with P C Haldar. But our boys – about 1,200 of them – continue to live in designated camps, with the hope that the government will come up with some rehabilitation programme,” said Gobinda Basumatary. About 500 members of the Ranjan Daimary faction of NDFB too are in designated camps; Daimary has met Haldar several times.