Even as the false narrative about the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the agitation seeking its withdrawal continue to be flamed by a minority of individuals, the Narendra Modi government has been silently going about its task in resolving long-pending issues pertaining to minorities and ethnic conflicts in the Northeast.
While the CAA has been grabbing the headlines, Union Home Minister Amit Shah has presided over the signing of two significant accords to end the 50-year old Bodo problem and the 23-year old issue of the rehabilitation of the Bru-Reangs in Tripura.
The ethnic conflict concerning the Bodos has claimed over 4,000 lives thus far, but with the recent agreement, a permanent solution has been found for the problem. As per a historic agreement between the Government of India, Government of Assam and Bodo representatives, the Centre has committed itself to a Rs 1,500-crore package to develop specific projects in the Bodo areas. In return, about 1,500 armed cadres will abjure violence and join the mainstream. The government has said that a comprehensive and final solution has been found for the demands put forth by the Bodos. Now, after long years of conflict, the Bodo factions will leave the path of violence, surrender weapons and disband their organisations. The Centre and the Assam government will take steps to rehabilitate these cadres.
Reading Bodo: One language, three scripts, and a focus area in Accord
Just a few days prior to this historic Bodo accord, Shah presided over the signing of an agreement in New Delhi between the Centre and the governments of Tripura and Mizoram and representatives of the Bru-Reangs to bring to an end a 23-year-old crisis of these refugees. This agreement enables the permanent settlement of the Bru-Reangs in Tripura and the rehabilitation package will cost Rs 600 crore.
The issue of the Bru-Reang refugees had its origin in the tensions that erupted in Mizoram in 1997 when around 5,000 families comprising around 30,000 persons fled that state and took refuge in Tripura. These people were housed in temporary camps in North Tripura. As the problem of the displaced tribals persisted, some efforts were made since 2010 to rehabilitate the Bru-Reangs. Out of the 5,000 families, about 1,600 families were sent back to Mizoram and the Union government took the initiative to assist the Tripura and Mizoram governments. The Modi government’s first major initiative came in July, 2018 when the governments signed an agreement which resulted in enhancing the assistance given to these families. Subsequently, 328 families comprising 1,369 persons returned to Mizoram. However, thereafter, the Bru tribals wanted a solution which would enable them to settle permanently in Tripura. They felt they would be more secure in that state.
The latest agreement will benefit about 34,000 Bru-Reangs who are living in six camps in Tripura.
According to the Tribal Research and Cultural Institute, Tripura, the Reangs are the second largest tribal community in Tripura and are recognised as one of the 75 primitive tribes in India. It is said that the Reangs came from the Shan state of Myanmar, first to the Chittagong Hill Tracts and then to Tripura. There was also another group which came to Tripura via Assam and Mizoram during the 18th century.
The institute says the Reangs have a population of 1.88 lakh and are divided into two major clans, Meska and Molsoi. They are still a nomadic tribe and a large number of them depend on jhum cultivation. Their language is known as Kaubru. A good percentage of them are followers of Vaishnavism. The Reangs’ folk life and culture have outstanding cultural components. The most popular of which is the Hozagiri dance.
Apart from Shah, Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga, Northeast Democratic Alliance chairman Himanta Biswa Sarma, the scion of the Tripura royal family, Pradyot Kishore Debbarma and the Bru representatives were present when the agreement was signed. As per this agreement, each of the Bru families living in Tripura will be given a plot of land, a fixed deposit of Rs 4 lakh, Rs 5,000 cash per month for two years, free ration for two years and another Rs 1.5 lakh to build their house. The land will be provided by the Government of Tripura.
The home ministry began serious efforts to end the problem faced by the Bru tribals when Shah decided to bring the two state governments and the Bru people together some months ago. He also got the erstwhile monarch of Tripura and different tribal groups to support the initiative to settle the Bru people in Tripura itself rather than attempt their rehabilitation in Mizoram. As Shah said after the agreement was signed, this is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas” policy and his emphasis of resolving long pending issues in the Northeast.
Both these agreements show the keenness of the Narendra Modi government to resolve long-pending issues in the Northeast to take those states on the high road to development. However, oblivious of these positive initiatives in the Northeast, a minority of malcontents continue to agitate over non-issues.
This article first appeared in the print edition on February 6, 2020 under the title “Healing old wounds in Northeast.” The writer is chairperson of Prasar Bharati.
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