Separatist struggles have often pitted the tribal Bodos against settlers in western Assam; the 2012 riots claimed 108 lives, most of them migrant Bengali Muslims. Mandate 2014 appears to have turned Bodos against themselves and driven the wedge between them and the indigenous non-Bodos deeper.
The run-up to Thursday’s polling in Kokrajhar constituency – it is part of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) area straddling four districts – witnessed several incidents of violence with two Muslims being killed in the Kajigaon area on Wednesday. But the fight between two Bodo groups trying to control BTC has been more intense.
One is the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), led by former militants. The other is led by the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU), which attributes the ills of BTC to BPF’s 11-year ‘misrule’. Clashes between the two groups have left dozens bruised. The two groups, however, sing the same tune when it comes to creation of a separate Bodoland state.
The statehood movement, intermittent since 1967, gained momentum after the creation of Telangana. It has increased the friction between Bodos and indigenous non-Bodo communities who constitute 74% of the population in BTC.
The non-Bodos have come together under Sanmilita Janagosthiya Aikya Manch to field Naba Kumar alias Hira Sarania, a former commander of the United Liberation Front of Asom.
“Bodo militants have used muscle and gun power to intimidate non-Bodos. But it will be different this time. We will be denied our rights if Bodoland state happens. As it is, we are second class citizens,” said Manch president Hiteswar Barman.
ABSU president Pramod Boro disagreed. “Statehood is our constitutional right. We need it to protect our language, culture and identity, not to victimise others,” he said.
ABSU is backing independent candidate UG Brahma while BPF has fielded Assam minister Chandan Brahma.
The ABSU candidate has the support of the National Democratic Front of Boroland, a militant outfit opposed to the group BPF evolved from.