Updated: March 16, 2021 12:34:30 pm
An influential regional party in Assam, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), which is an ally of the BJP in the outgoing state government with three ministers, last week announced departure from the alliance to join the Congress-led ‘Grand Alliance’ against the saffron party.
The move is speculated to be a big boost for the Congress because many believe the party can swing votes in favour of the alliance in the Bodoland Territorial Region, which is governed by the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) and roughly translates into around 15 Assembly seats.
BPF and its significance
Bodos are the single-largest tribal community in Assam and constitute over 5-6 per cent of the total state population. The demand for a separate Bodo state has been there since 1967-68.
The BPF’s roots lie in Bodoland region’s long history of insurgency demanding a separate state. Three peace and development accords have been signed till now among the Centre, state and the Bodo outfits — in 1993, 2003 and the last one in January 2020.
The 2003 accord led to the formation of the BTC and since then, elections have been held in 2005, 2010, and 2015. BTC is an autonomous, self-governing body under Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. In these Council polls, the BPF — earlier called the Bodo People’s Progressive Front and its members comprising a large section of surrendered militants of the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) who gave up arms following the 2003 accord — swept to power. The BPF is led by the influential Bodo leader Hagrama Mohilary, a former BLT chief who surrendered in 2003.
In 2006 and 2011, the BPF was part of the Congress-led government in Assam, after which it parted ways during the 2014 elections. In the 2016 Assam polls, the BPF won 12 seats out of the 13 it contested and allied with the BJP to form the state government.
BPF general secretary Prabin Boro told The Indian Express last week, “We will certainly contest and win the 12 seats we have. In addition to that, we will see where else to contest.”
What is the current political landscape in this election in Assam?
In the 2016 elections to the 126-member Assam Assembly, the winning alliance comprised the BJP (60), the BPF (12 seats) and the AGP (14 seats). This year, the BJP will be continuing its alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) but has broken up with its other ally, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) — and instead, has gone with the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) in the Bodoland region.
On the other hand, the Congress and the AIUDF, together with three Left parties and a regional party, have announced a grand alliance against the BJP. Badruddin Ajmal, the MP and perfume baron, leads the AIUDF, a party that enjoys a large support base in the state’s Bengali-origin Muslim community.
In 2019, the BJP had faced opposition in Assam over the CAA, with influential groups arguing that the Act was detrimental to the interests of the indigenous people of Assam. The two new regional parties — Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and the Raijor Dal — owe their genesis to the massive anti-CAA protests that led to at least five persons being gunned down by security forces in clashes. The two parties will contest the coming elections together against the BJP.
What led to the rift between the BPF and the BJP?
The latest elections to the BTC were held in December last year. Out of the 40 elected seats in BTC, UPPL won 12, BJP nine, GSP one, Congress one and BPF 17 seats.
But the BJP did not ally with the BPF to rule the BTC, but joined hands with the UPPL and GSP, thereby clearly indicating a rupture in the alliance in the state elections.
There are multiple speculative theories as to why the BJP chose to part ways with Mohilary’s party. Senior BJP leaders have earlier told The Indian Express that it was not happy with the way the BPF was administering the BTC and moreover, Mohilary was not being supportive politically.
During the campaign for the BTC elections, Assam’s influential BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma had vehemently criticised Mohilary, who responded by saying the polls were a contest between “Himanta Biswa Sarma and myself”. Mohilary has also made a media statement saying that once he had said Sarbananda Sonowal should become the next CM of Assam, and Sarma took offence to it.
On Sunday, the BJP said in a statement that the party knew of a secret understanding between the BPF and the Congress-AIUDF from much before and the official announcement have only confirmed their doubt.
“Just like the Congress has proven itself to be anti indigenous people of Assam by allying with the AIUDF, similarly, the BPF has besmirched the history of Bodo people’s struggle by joining the grand alliance,” the BJP statement said.
The break in the BJP’s alliance with the BPF was marked by the resignation of BPF’s popular face and Rajya Sabha MP Biswajit Daimary, who soon joined the BJP.
Rhituporna Konwar, an Assam Congress spokesperson, told The Indian Express, “The BPF didn’t get the respect it deserves with the BJP. If you analyse, you will see that the BJP has this policy of destroying small regional parties after allying with them. They had a post-poll alliance with the BPF and yet kicked them out during the BTC elections.”
The BTC elections were preceded by the Centre’s signing of the accord with Bodo groups in January last year. The UPPL is led by Promod Boro, a former president of All Bodo Students’ Union and was one of the signatories of the accord.
After the results, a disgruntled Mohilary approached the Gauhati High Court, alleging violation of constitutional provisions. The High Court ordered a floor test for the ruling alliance of the BJP-UPPL-GSP to prove their strength —which they did.
What can be the political effect of the BPF joining the Grand Alliance?
The BJP has disregarded the possibility of any threat to its political prospects due to the new alliance. In Sunday’s statement, the party said that people know very well that the key to development of Bodoland lies in the BJP’s ideology of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas’ and not with “the Congress, which looted Assam for 15 years; the AIUDF, which is the protector of Bangladeshis; and Bodoland’s hero of corruption, Hagrama”. But the Congress considers the development a shot in the arm.
“The BPF is our old friend. They hold a large influence in the BTR region. Even by conservative estimates, they will definitely win 6-7 seats and then be a very decisive factor in 18 more seats where there are a considerable number of Bodo voters. The BPF joining our grand alliance is very good news for us,” Congress spokesperson Konwar said.
Ranjeet Dass, the state BJP president, told The Indian Express that the BPF joining the Congress-led alliance is not a problem for them. “They are eyeing votes of the Miya community (Bengali-origin Muslim community) and hence have gone into the alliance. They are hoping they will win one or two seats with the Miya community votes. We anyway do not want those votes, and hence we don’t care. The BJP and the UPPL are together going strong in the Bodoland region,” Dass said.
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