There is usually a pattern to militancy in the Northeast. The Songbijit faction of National Democratic Front of Bodoland, officials say, is unpredictable.
According to Assam police chief Khagen Sarma, Tuesday’s attacks on mostly Christian adivasis could have been in retaliation to an offensive against the outfit that ‘neutralised’ several top guns. “It is difficult to say why adivasis have been targeted. You never know when and where these people will unleash violence,” said CM Tarun Gogoi.
The adivasis, along with migrant Bengali-speaking Muslims, are among the largest of over 30 non-Bodo communities across four districts under the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). Together, they comprise more than 75% of the BTC population, making the Bodos a minority.
Sonitpur is not under BTC, but Bodo militants want swathes of this district under self-rule territory. The British brought Bengali Muslims and adivasis to the area over 100 years ago to grow rice and work in tea plantations respectively.
Non-Bodo groups claim policy-makers ignored their rights when BTC was created in 2003, and a clause that required 50% Bodo population for a village to be included in the council, was a cause for concern. The Sanmilita Janagosthiya Aikya Mancha launched a series of agitation that petered out until the Lok Sabha election last year. They also helped a former United Liberation Front of Asom rebel wrest the Kokrajhar seat that had a Bodo representative for years.
Forty-six Muslims, the largest non-Bodo voting bloc, were killed before the results, presumably as a punishment for their political choice. The NDFB(S) was blamed, but involvement of other Bodo groups was not ruled out.
“Control over land is at the core of violence in BTC areas, though many consciously try to bring about polarisation along religious lines,” said academic Udayon Misra.
Army officials said it was easier to attack in remote areas bordering Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh without running into security forces. But the militants could also have driven home a message — not to repeat the ‘mistake’ of the Lok Sabha polls in the polls for BTC scheduled next year.