The 3rd Bodo Accord

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On the scale of success, this agreement of January 27th, 2020 falls in between the August 2015 Naga Accord, which is shrouded in complete secrecy and the Bru Accord of January 2016 to settle permanently the 34,000 Bru people, who were displaced from Mizoram in 1997.

It was on January 27th, 2020, that the Ministry of Home Affairs of Government of India, Government of Assam and All Bodo Student’s Union, including the more radical insurgent outfits, signed the third accord to bring in peace in the region. This last accord is expected to bring peace, which remained elusive through out the period from 1985 till date. To better understand the significance of this accord, we need to give a look at the history of Bodo unrest and insurgency which started as early as 1967.

Bodos are possibly the earliest settlers of the plain of Assam. With their primary concentration across the northen region of Brahmaputra valley, they happen to be one of the largest tribes to settle here. The districts primarily inhabited by the Bodos are, Dhubri, Kokhrajhar, Bongaigaon, Barpets, Nalbari, Kamarup, Darrang, Sonitpur, Lakhimpur and Dhemaji. These people are ordinarily known among the Assamese and other non-Bodo tribes as Kacharis, but they themselves prefer the genous term ‘Bodo’.

There is a deep-rooted sense of isolation in Assam and all the ethnic communities of the North East. This comes from various experiences of independence movement and post-independence developments. On the eve of independence, when different states were being categorised in three categories, according to Cabinet Mission Plan, Assam was placed in Group ‘C’ along with Bengal, where Muslim league was supposed to form the government in spite of Muslims being the minority. It was during this time, that the Assam State Congress Committee led by Gopinath Bordoloi, would go even against the Congress Central leadership led by Sardar Patel to pull Assam out of Group ‘C’. In this fight Gopinath Bordoloi would finally manage the support of Mr. M. K. Gandhi. This was done so, to maintain the Assamese ethnic identity, which was felt to be at threat if Muslim League had formed the government in the state.

With partition of the country taking place, there was a huge refugee influx from East Pakistan in the state of Assam. This would again create tension within the Assamese society, especially on the issue of maintaining their dominance. Subsequently, the Revenue department would issue a circular on 4th of May 1948, to ensure the dominance of the Assamese people over the state. The circular would state “accept Assamese as mother tongue and we give you land.” (2) Result of this circular would be that in the census of 1951, 56.7% of the population would register their mother tongue as Assamese. This would be a phenomenal rise from 31% in 1931.

The Government of Assam declared Assamese as the only official language of the state in 1960. Additionally, in 1972, the Assamese state government would implement a policy to make Assamese compulsory in all the schools across the state. Since 1979, started the Assam Movement, by a section of All Assam Students Union and other stake-holders to consolidate the control of the Assamese people over the state, which came to an end in 1985 with the signing of the Assam Accord between the Union Government, the State Government of Assam and All Assam Students Union (AASU). With the end of Assam Movement, Assam Gan Parishad (AGP), a political outfit formed by the leaders of Assam Movement would come to power in the elections of 1985. This government would implement a new language policy, where by knowing Assamese would become mandatory for government services in Assam.

These developments would alienate all the other minorities in the state, including the Bengalis, Koch Rajbongshis, Bodos and Rabhas.

The economic and social conditions of the Bodos were really bad, especially in the earlier years of independent India. Not only that, they were even deprived of the rights given by the constitution of India to the tribals in every other part. Additionally, with the rise of Assam Movement, whatever limited rights they had, or the employment opportunities in government services, those too were taken away. In this backdrop, the newly emerging middle class among the Bodos, tried to draw the attention of the government towards them, but in vain. Consequently, this led to rise of an ethnic movement on the grounds of continuous negligence of Bodo language, economic deprivation, inattentiveness to ethnic people and cultural discrimination. (2) Simultaneously, land alienation due to continuous illegal immigration was also going on.

On 15th February 1967, the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) was formed. Subsequently, on 27th February 1967, the Plain Tribal Council of Assam (PTCA) was formed in Kokrajhar Assam, which in turn raised the demand for an autonomous region within the state of Assam for the Bodos, by the name of Udayanchal. ABSU supported the claim of PTCA.

Gradually this demand for autonomous region changed into the demand for separate state or Union Territory (UT). By 1972, this demand for separate state reached it’s peak. By 1974-75 a new dimension was added to the demand of the Bodos, to replace the Bengali/Assamese script with Roman script, just in line with the Nagas, Mizos or Khasis. However, later on these organisations disintegrated into a number of factions, say for example, PTCA got bifurcated into PTCA (Progressive) and United Tribal National Liberation Front (UTNLF). It is UTNLF, which subsequently transformed into United Bodo National Liberation Front (UBNLF).

Post 1985, signing of Assam accord, Upendra Nath Brahma, the leader of the ABSU raised the issue of implementation of clause 10 of the accord strictly. Clause 10 of Assam Accord (1985) talks about strongly dealing with illegal immigrants & land grabbers and calls for their eviction. But this demand fell into deaf ears. Rather the then Government of Assam formed by AGP looked at the rising trend of Bodo movement as a counter movement to their own cause. The AGP government of Assam would blame the central government for using the central agencies to fuel Bodo insurgency to destabilise Assam.

In this backdrop, in January 1987, the leadership of ABSU presented infront of the Assam Chief Minister, Mr. Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and the Governor of Assam Mr. B. N. Singh, a list of 92 demands. Later they would move away from 89 demands of the said 92 demands but would stick to 3 key demands of:-

  • creating the separate state of Bodoland
  • Creation of two District Councils on the Southern bank of the river Brahmaputra i.e. Neelanchul and Lalung;
  • Inclusion of Boro-Kocharis of Karbi-Anglong into the sixth schedule of the Indian Constitution.

Additionally, in the background a number of insurgent organisations started mushrooming. The ABSU formed it’s own military wing by the name of Bodo Volunteer Force (BVF). One more organisation by the name of Bodo Security Force (BdSF) came up. The Assam State Government blamed the Union Government of sponsoring the BdSF to counter the threat of United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA).

It was in this backdrop that the 1st Bodo Accord got signed. On the invitation of the then Assam Chief Minister Hiteshwar Saikia, the ABSU initiated talks with the government. On 20th of February 1993, the Chief Minister of Assam, Hiteshwar Saikia, and the then Chief of ABSU, Sanchuma Khungur Bwismauthiary, in the presence of the then Union Minister of State for Home, Mr. Rajesh Pilot. As a result of this accord the Bodo Autonomous Council (BAC) was formed. The BVF went for cease-fire and started surrendering their arms and ammunitions. However, most of the insurgent groups including BdSF and others were not party to this accord. And over the issue of boundary demarcation, this fragile accord broke down leading to the second phase of armed insurgency. During this time, the erstwhile BVF, rechristened itself as Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) and the BdSF emerged in the new avatar of National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).

1994 onwards a proper action plan was followed to alter the demographic composition within the BAC area. All the non-Bodo population, whether comprising of Hindus or Muslim Bengali immigrants from the former East Pakistan, or ethnic tribals like Santhals, Oraons, Mundas and Koch Rajbansis, were driven out from the region. People were slaughtered, their houses were burned, land was forcefully grabbed to push them out of the territory and these people were forced to take shelter in different camps set up by the Government of Assam. In fact, to create terror within the heart and mind of the non-bodos, not only they were driven out, but even the Government run camps, where they took shelters, were attacked. For example, in Banbhari relief camp unarmed inmates were killed cruelly. (2)

In addition to the above-mentioned ethnic cleansing, on 27th December 1996, BLT blew up RCC Bridge at Rakholduli in Bongaigaon district to cut off road link between the region and the rest of the country.

In this backdrop, on the request of the state government, the Central Government initiated another round of negotiations. This would result in the signing of the tripartite second Bodo Accord in 2003. On 10th February 2003, Mr. Hagrama Basumatary, the then chairman of BLT, signed a tripartite agreement with the central government (R. C. A. Jain, Secretary, Border Management, MHA) and state government (P. K. Dutta, Chief Secretary) to bring this phase of insurgency to an end.

Accordingly, a constitutional amendment took place to include Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) in the sixth schedule. The sixth schedule provides special provisions only for the hill areas in the state of Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur and Mizoram and Darjeeling District of West Bengal. The Government of Assam issued a notification to authorize the formation of BTC after nine months. The notification was delayed, specifically due to the controversy regarding demarcation of the council’s territory. The final hurdle was cleared on 23rd October 2003 and the State Government agreed to include 25 more villages in the BTC territory, taking the total number of villages to 3108. The outcome of the same was:-

  • A University in Kokrajhar for Bodos;
  • Inclusion of Bodo language in the 8th schedule of the Constitution of India;
  • Besides Kokrajhar, three new districts of Udalguri, Baska, and Chirang were formed;
  • More autonomy was given to the proposed Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) under the sixth schedule of the constitution of India;
  • And an annual allocation of Rs. 100 crore was assured to the BTAD.

Hagrama Basumatary, the former Commander-in-Chief of BLT, was sworn in as the Chief Executive Member (CEM) of the Bodoland Territorial Council in the first week of December 2003. By the second week of December 2003, 2600 cadres of the Bodo Liberation Tiger Force (BLTF) surrendered in Kokrajhar. The former members of the non-operational BLTF pledged to uphold the constitution and sovereignty and integrity of India.

However, NDFB opposed the talks with the Government of India along with formation of BTC and declared to continue to fight for a sovereign Bodo Nation. Finally, in 2005, the leadership of NDFB expressed their willingness to give up the demand for a ‘Sovereign Bodoland’ and to settle their grievances within the framework of the constitution of India. However, in 2008, 2012 and 2014 the violence exploded twice within BTC between the Bodos and Muslims. The violence erupted in 2012 because All Bodo Minority Student Union demanded more representation in BTC.

It is in this backdrop that the third Accord got negotiated and signed on 27th of January 2020. With this accord, even NDFB, one of the last anti-talks organisation and a key player of anti-talk coalition, the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFWESEA), joined the fora.

This third accord is far more holistic than the previous two accords as it involves all warring factions within the Bodo society. Whether All Bodo Students Union, the United Bodo People’s Organisation (UBPO), Bodo Liberation Tiger Force and the four factions of National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) including the anti-talk NDFB-S faction, all signed on the dotted lines along with the State Government of Assam and the Government of India. All the sides pledged to uphold and abide by the Constitution of India. And there by gave up the demand for separate soveriegn nationhood or even for a separate statehood. The provisions of the Accord are as below:-

  • All the parties declared and pledged to abide by the constitution of India.
  • Demand for separate nationhood or even statehood was given up.
  • Designated camps were set up for the armed insurgents and provisions were finalised for their return to normal life.
  • Bodo Territorial Area District (BTAD) was abandoned and instead Bodo Territorial Region (BTR) has been formed.
  • Rs 1,500 Crore special package was announced for development of the BTR.
  • An increase in seats from 40 to 60 on the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC), and as yet unspecified guarantees that more powers would be granted to the BTC.
  • Regarding the territorial scope of the BTR, the accord stipulates that a commission will be constituted to explore the possibility of extending the territorial extent of the BTC to villages with more than 50 per cent Bodo population, whilst excluding those with less than 50 per cent Bodo population.

Given the scenario at present, the accord seems to be conclusive enough, but the past records of Bodoland negotiations have taught us to be cautious about predicting any long-term future of peace in the region.

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Current Affairs Review


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