Bodo tribals ramp demand for separate state
Kokrajhar (Assam): Assam may be heading for a fresh phase of turmoil with tribal Bodo political and militant groups joining hands to ramp the demand for a separate Bodoland state.
"A separate Bodoland is a genuine demand for getting the political, social and cultural rights of the Bodo people," Assam Agriculture Minister and senior Bodoland People's Front (BPF) leader Pramila Rani Brahma said.
BPF is an ally of the ruling Congress party in Assam.
The demand for a separate Bodoland gathered momentum at the Bodo National Convention which concluded here in western Assam on Friday with 41 different groups advocating the need to carve out a tribal homeland for the estimated three million Bodo people out of 26 million people in the state.
Those attending the two-day convention include the BPF; the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB); the Bodo Sahitya Sabha, a literary body; besides other socio-political formations of the Bodos.
"Turmoil began in the Bodo heartland with the demand for a separate Bodoland state way back in the late 1980s and even today it is a burning issue. Until and unless the agitation comes to a logical end (separate Bodoland), peace would continue to elude Assam," NDFB general secretary Gobinda Basumatary said.
"The people of Bodoland would fight for our political and cultural rights," Basumatary added.
The NDFB faction led by Basumatary entered into a ceasefire with New Delhi in 2005 although formal peace talks are yet to begin.
'Divide Assam 50-50' was the slogan a decade ago with the Bodo heartland in western and northern Assam witnessing a string of violent attacks. The NDFB spearheaded the violence alongside the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), a group that surrendered en masse in 2003 following the Bodo Accord signed with New Delhi.
BLT leaders later formed the BPF, now an ally of the Congress party in Assam.
The Bodo Accord paved the way for bringing the curtains down on the BLT's violent campaign for a Bodoland within the Indian union (the NDFB demands a state outside the Indian union) and creation of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), a politico-administrative structure.
BPF now heads the BTC.
"Let the demand for Bodoland continue and side by side let us also work towards development and put an end to the fratricidal clashes in our area," BTC chief and former BLT leader Hagrama Mohilary said.
But amid the claims and demands, CM Tarun Gogoi has bluntly rejected the demand for Bodoland.
"We cannot allow Assam to be further fragmented on ethnic lines," the CM said.
Surely, the demand for Bodoland is once again going to put the region under the scanner with radical elements within the community, like the NDFB faction that is against talks, expected to hijack the movement by triggering violence.