A new tripartite agreement, signed by the Centre, Assam government and Bodo militant groups, is a welcome development as it offers hope for the insurgency-hit northeast region. The accord marks the truce among various factions of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and is expected to end decades of armed movement that has claimed over 4,000 lives. Hopefully, the agreement will also put an end to the demand for separate State for Bodos, the single largest community among the notified Scheduled Tribes in Assam that constitute about 6% of the State’s population. The All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU), which has been spearheading the movement for a Bodoland State since 1972, is also a signatory to the accord, which seeks to fulfil political and economic demands besides safeguarding the Bodo language and culture. This is the third Bodo accord to be signed in the last 27 years when the violent movement wreaked havoc in the sensitive border State. The first accord was signed with the ABSU in 1993, leading to the creation of Bodoland Autonomous Council with limited political powers. In 2003, the second Bodo accord was signed with the militant group Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), leading to formation of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) with four districts of Assam — Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baska and Udalguri — called the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD), which will now be reconstituted by including new Bodo-dominated villages and excluding those with predominantly non-tribal populations. The accord will also pave the way for surrender of arms by the NDFB factions and phased withdrawal of Army from the insurgency-hit areas.
At a time when the ruling BJP is coming under fire from the large Assamese-speaking community, the agreement demonstrates the party’s keenness to cement its hold among Bodo voters. Assamese-speaking communities had voted overwhelmingly for the saffron party in the previous elections. Now, Assamese student leaders, activists, popular singers and actors, and eminent citizens have been holding anti-BJP protest rallies across the State. The Bodoland region is in western Assam, and large sections of the Bodos are already seen as supportive of the BJP. Hagrama Mohilary, who heads the BJP’s ally Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), is the chief executive member of the BTC. The Bodo outfits have now dropped their demand for a separate State in favour of more autonomy and development assistance. If the fresh accord delivers on its promises, it would lead to the end of one of northeast’s long running insurgencies. The next challenge will be to revive peace talks with Naga militant groups and firm up a negotiated settlement. However, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), against which Assam is protesting, can become a stumbling block. The CAA has the potential to revive dying separatist movements in the region.