While non-stop jubilation reverberates across the Bodo heartland in the wake of the signing of the Bodo Peace Accord, the third over the last 27 years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined the celebration in Kokrajhar on February 5 and declared that the Accord marked a new era of peace in the region. “This is a new opportunity and a new dawn for Assam,” he thundered.
Surely on the face value, these are highly encouraging words for all. After all peace is the pivotal and central requirement, almost umbilical in nature, in the path of development and progress. On their part, development and progress constitute the twin-mantra for realisation of ‘roti, kaapda aur maakan’, a phrase not quite likeable for the rightists.
Celebration and jubilation apart, the question definitely arises if this third Accord on the soil of the Bodos would succeed in delivering the goods. Repetition of accords, on an average one accord every nine years, establishes beyond doubt that the earlier two accords have failed to deliver, and hence a third one.
Significantly, the immediate aftermath of every accord was jubilation in the region with the powers that be in Dispur and Delhi heaping mountains of praise on selves. On both the earlier occasions mighty-mouthed and high-syllable rhetoric rent the air of Assam that the era of violence and bloodshed in the region was over for all times.
However, all those towering statements promising a rosy future came a cropper in no time with guns, bullets, bombs, bloodshed and extortion indulged in by other militant outfits tearing peace to shreds in the region.
The bitter truth is that, over the last three decades, undivided Kokrajhar district and areas as far away as Guwahati witnessed unprecedented bullet and bomb cult and killings and destruction of both public and private properties.
Though public memory is very short, the people have not forgotten the grotesque orgy of bomb blasts on October 30, 2008 costing the loss of nearly a hundred innocent lives in a single day.
Significantly, bombs, guns, killings, bloodshed and extortion were the hallmark of the years that preceded the signing of every accord that carried with it offers of huge bonanzas from the Centre for the region.
In straight language, massive largesses were extracted for the region from the Centre by the militants groups as price for peace. Or to be still straighter, the Centre bought peace with offers of huge bounties.
From that point of view, the development that resulted from the gains realised from different accords for the Bodo heartland over the decades were clearly outcome of massive violence and bloodshed.
It is another matter that after every accord is signed, the governments, both in Delhi and Dispur, sing the stereotype pean that only peace can usher any development.
Now that the third Bodo Accord has be signed, another set of bonanza by way of a package worth Rs 1,500 crore is on its way to the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD), now rechristened as Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR).
The accord certainly means more development for BTR while history testifies that development emanated in the wake of the landscape turning into killing fields at different times. Ironically, the principle of non-violence as advocated by Mahatma Gandhi clearly fell by the roadside over the decades in the region.
Now that the latest accord is the newest chapter in the history of Bodoland and that the Prime Minister has termed it as a “new dawn for Assam”, one may only hope, wish and pray that this chapter may not go haywire on the peace front unlike in the earlier two occasions.
However, in the light the last three plus decades of history of the region, a serious observer would like to ask if militancy has finally ended in the Bodo heartland. While it is too early in the day to comment on the accord or the Prime Minister’s statement pertaining to a “new dawn for Assam”, one may have to wait for sometime to finally apprehend if a “new dawn” surfaces in the state; it would indeed be highly unfortunate if Modi’s statement turns out to be mere pious homily.
In the backdrop of mushroom growth of armed outfits in the Bodo heartland in the last few decades, one feels that there is no guarantee that more such outfits would not emerge in the near future with demands like separate Bodoland state.
At this stage it may be pointed out that it was only in the second half of November 2019 that many of the signatories to the latest Bodo Accord reiterated the demand for Bodoland at a massive rally held near Balipara in Sonitpur district in north Assam.
Just over two months have passed since then and logically one may ask if these leaders and concerned organisation(s) have now given up the demand for statehood.
According to some sources, rumour mills and grapevines, if not statehood, the demand for at least Union Territory (UT) could very well run across the Bodo heartland.
An observer may also feel that the rechristening of the BTAD to BTR involving the word ‘region’ could be a signal in this direction. While history quite often repeats itself, in the backdrop of the last three decades of violence and two failing accords, one may pray that the region may not witness the birth of more militant outfit(s) with new agenda of demands.
One shudders at the thought that the demand for statehood may surface again to be followed by years of smouldering discontent. While the BJP heavyweights have gone hammer and tongs that Assam has been saved from further division, one only hopes that the saffron brigade proves the same in deeds.
On the other hand, the non-Bodos who constitute the majority in the Bodo belt are apprehensive, with valid reasons, that they may be at the receiving end with the political, economic and social scenario seemingly heading for a drastic change.
Despite Delhi and Dispur painting a rosy scenario post-accord, the government seems to be oblivious to the fears that might have stricken the psyche of the non-Bodos in the region. Already serious concerns have been voiced by non-bodo leaders, including Kokrajhar MP Naba Kumar Sarania.
Stating that the interests of the non-Bodos were ignored even during the signing of the BTC Accord in 2003, Sarania said, “The interests of other ethnic tribes in the area have been ignored once again.”
Again, inclusion and exclusion of villages in and from BTR is also on the cards. In this context, the Union Home Minister’s statement that the area of the BTR may be enraged, has the potential of causing shivers among the residents of the areas adjoining the present BTR territory.
Hence, so far as the non-Bodo landscape is concerned, a situation of unrest could possibly be brewing up in the coming days. It may be advisable for the government to address all problems relating to the non-Bodos, lest the situation turns volatile.
While at the ground level, government succeeded in scripting the third Bodo Accord with several armed militant outfits with offers of massive largess to the Bodo heartland, it is the sacred duty of the government to protect and promote the interests of the non-Bodos in the region.
The government must know and accept the fact that peace is not a one-way traffic. One only hopes that both Delhi and Dispur will honour the Prime Minister’s towering statement pertaining to “new dawn for Assam” and not reduce it to a mere pious homily. The road ahead seems to be thorny, bumpy and the terrain hostile.