As much for land as for votes: Kokrajhar killings more than an election issue

A call for bifurcation of Assam Bodoland. ( Source: IE Photo By Dasarath Deka ) A call for bifurcation of Assam Bodoland. ( Source: IE Photo By Dasarath Deka )

Amid all the rhetoric of revenge by the ballot in these elections, it was revenge by the bullet that played out on May 2 in two villages in Assam. Some 40 Bengali-speaking Muslims were massacred by armed Bodos in Kokrajhar, part of Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD). The victims were “punished” because they had voted for Naba ‘Hira’ Sarania, a former ULFA militant popular among the non-Bodos, in the election to Kokrajhar constituency on April 24.

Kokrajhar is a constituency reserved for the Scheduled Tribes, and has always elected a Bodo MP since the first Lok Sabha polls in 1952. But this year, the fight is tough. Sarania is a formidable candidate, and the non-Bodos, who make up more than 70 per cent of the population and are unhappy with the “autocratic” Bodo rule, are supporting him. A-Boro Suraksha Samiti (ASS) and Sanmilita Jangosthiya Oikya Mancha (SJOM), which comprise all ethnic groups of BTAD except the Bodos, have officially endorsed Sarania, contesting as an independent. The Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) candidate is senior party leader Chandan Brahma. The other Bodo candidate in the fray is U G Brahma backed by the All Bodo Students Union and four other groups. Support for the two Bodo candidates may split among the Bodos who form about a fifth of the population.

The day before the massacre, Pramila Rani Brahma, a former state minister and a senior BPF leader, said at a press conference that Muslims had voted for Sarania. “In Muslim villages where once we used to get 80 per cent votes, we will hardly get 50 per cent,” she said. The largely poor, ghettoised Muslims, including many illegal migrants, were soft targets for the attack, says Assam DGP Khagen Sharma. “We had information that the Songbijit faction of the proscribed National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-S) would target security forces. If they didn’t succeed, they would hit out at the Ranjan Daimary faction of NDFB. And if both didn’t work, the cadres would look for soft targets,” he says.

The BPF insists the violence was not communal. “It is not Bodo vs Muslims. No Bodo villager has attacked his Muslim neighbour. The NDFB(S) militants are hitting soft targets to make their presence felt,” says BPF’s Chandan Brahma, minister for tourism in the Congress-led government in Assam.

The Muslims are not the only community targeted by Bodos. “Several thousand non-tribals have been forced to quit their original homes in these districts. About 14,000 persons belonging to the Nath and Koch-Rajbangshi communities have been ousted from Kokrajhar between 1989 and 2001. Koch-Rajbangshis have virtually disappeared from the Gossaigaon assembly segment too. Moreover, at least 150 Bengali Hindus have been kidnapped in the last two years, 40 of whom have been killed,” says Samsher Ali of the …continued »