“Caste, community will rapidly disappear. We have to speedily forget all these things. Such boundaries hamper our growth”. These famous words of Sardar Patel seem relevant in the present scenario of Assam and particularly in Bodo accord.
The central government along with state government has recently signed the historic Bodo accord. However, this is not the first time when the government has engaged the Bodo community for dispute settlement. But this Bodo accord has its significance in the bright future of the Assam in general and Bodo people in particular. Different people have hailed the accord as historic.
After the 1986 Mizo Accord, at least five major peace agreements have been clinched with insurgent groups. But for the first time a student organization which had acted as a catalyst and unifier has become a signatory to an accord along with a civil society conglomeration. This could well be a new peace template for the region.
In a tripartite agreement, all the parties to the agreement have agreed upon on all the main issues which had caused thousands of death and uncountable destruction to public and private property. Apart from Central and State government all the four factions of NDFB, ABSU, UBPO were the parties to the historic accord which in the government’s opinion will bring prosperity in the region.
The BTAD (Bodoland Territorial Area Districts) and other areas mentioned under the sixth Schedule of the Constitution have been exempted from the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 that enables undocumented non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who entered India on or before December 31, 2014 to apply for Indian citizenship.
History of violence and agreement
The Bodo which is also known as Kacharis and Mech is an ethnolinguistic group. They are a part of the greater Bodo-Kachari family (constitute 5-6% of Assam’s population) of ethnolinguistic groups and are spread across northeastern India. They have their political presence in four districts of Assam namely, kokrajhar, Chirang, Baska, and Udalguri. They have been living in the region for centuries.
The demand for a separate Bodoland was first raised in the 1960s. At that time the demand was mainly about autonomy to certain Bodo dominated areas. It gained momentum from 1987 when All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) launched an agitation for a separate state. In the late 1980s, the violent and militant means were adopted by the Bodo people which caused several deaths and large human displacement. Finding no other option, the government agreed to bring the matter on the table. After several negotiations, the 1st Bodo accord was signed on 20 February 1993 between Central and State governments and ABSU-Bodo Peoples Action Committee (BPAC). It provided the Bodo Autonomous Council (BAC) composed of 40 members with 38 subjects-matters. But later on, the Bodo people rejected the accord which gave another start to violent protests for the demands. The violent protests got more support from the formation of Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) in June 1996.
On 10 February 2003, the 2nd tripartite Bodo accord was signed which led to the formation of the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) with increased autonomy and powers. In addition to that Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD) was created under the 6th Schedule of the Constitution of India which included four districts of the state of Assam. Also, the Bodo language was added to the 8th Schedule of the Constitution by a Constitutional Amendment in 2003.
However, all these things failed to impress Bodo people. The NDFB divided into several factions and continued their demand for greater autonomy to the Bodo community.
Latest accord and the way forward
The present dispensation has been very keen to solve long pending issues of the North-East Region (NER). Recently the 23-year long-pending issue of rehabilitation of Bru-Reans in Tripura has been solved finally. Apart from this, from the very first day, the NDA government has been working with great zeal to develop the entire NER. This becomes evident from the fact that a separated Ministry has been formed namely Development of North-Eastern Region (DoNER) which has been given adequate powers and responsibilities for the overall development of the region. To solve this issue, the Centre started acting in August 2019. Many rounds of meetings took place with all the stakeholders. Finally, the accord was signed on 27th January 2020.
The government while working on its mantra of “Sab ka Sath, Sab ka Vikas, Sab ka Vishwas” has agreed on all the issues of Bodo representatives and succeeded to maintain the integration of Assam. The government also succeeded in tackling the main issue of delay in the implementation of the provisions of the accord. The accord provides for the time-bound implementation of all the provisions of the accord. The government is committed to doing everything possible which will help not only in achieving peace and prosperity in the region but also the overall development of the region and the Bodo community in particular.
A total of 1500 crore rupees will be earmarked over three years equally by the Central and the State government. Both the governments will also rehabilitate the armed insurgents of the total of eight banned outfits who have surrendered on 30th January 2020.
The entire issue revolved around the ethnic and linguistic identity of Bodo people. The present accord deals with this issue with the required importance. The accord provides for the provision wherein the Bodo language in Devanagari script will be notified as an associate official language in the state. A separate directorate for Bodo medium schools will also be constituted in upcoming days.
As far as legislative and political autonomy to BTC is considered the accord has kept the provisions in accordance with the expectations of the Bodo people within the Constitutional framework. The BTC will become a 60 membered council having jurisdiction over the BTAD, which is proposed to be renamed as Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) with increased legislative, administrative, financial and executive powers. A Commission will be appointed under Section 14 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India, with representation from the state government, ABSU, and BTC, which will recommend the inclusion and exclusion of Bodo people residing in villages adjoining the BTAD areas within six months of its appointment. For the welfare of the Bodo people, the Government of Assam will form a Bodo-Kachari Welfare Council as per the existing procedure. The accord also proposes to keep the rights of tribal people over the land without halting the development of the area.
As per the estimation it will bring peace to the region and the accord will successfully bring together leading stakeholders under one framework. Reportedly, there were nearly 4000(Civilians, security personnel and Bodo cadres) death and millions of people were displaced since the demand of the separate state but now we have this peace accord and expect no more death in the name of separate state. People previously associated with armed resistance groups will enter the mainstream and contribute to the nation’s progress.It will further protect and popularize the unique culture of the Bodo people and will give them access to a wide range of development-oriented initiatives. It will bring peace, harmony and togetherness in the people of Assam.
As per the pact, it will provide general amnesty to cadres involved in non-heinous crimes and consideration on the case to case basis for those who are involved in heinous offences. Assam government is revamping its rehabilitation program to ensure that these cadres who have been surrendered should not go back to insurgency.
Meanwhile, peace in the Bodoland Territorial Region, which has witnessed several incidents of ghastly ethnic violence, will depend on the evolving relationship between the Bodos, the dominant but not the majority in the BTR and other communities.
We have to learn from past experiences. Meghalaya was also a part of Assam, it got separated because of a dominant community. In case of the BTAD movement, the same thing happened. We did not take Bodos in confidence during the Assam Agitation. The BTAD is mix of many communities. They will have to take other communities into confidence if the region has to prosper.
Reaching to the agreement does not mean that the age-old problem has ended. The problem may emerge once again if the loopholes are not dealt with firmly and on an urgent basis as and when required. Earlier also two accords were signed between the government and other stakeholders but what had happened afterward, the entire world knows. So, the government needs to be very alert to ensure that any unprecedented issue can be dealt with in the initial stages. Also, the government needs to save itself from making all the mistakes that had caused unrepairable loss to life and limb. The government has to make sure that all the provisions of the accord are fulfilled in their originality and in a time-bound manner.