The latest round of violence involving immigrant Muslims, who are originally from Bangladesh, and the indigenous Bodo population in Assam shows that both the state and Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) failed to apprehend the culprits responsible for the violence that has been continuing for some time now. This is a crisis of governance because the government has learnt nothing from earlier clashes like the immigrant Muslim-Bodo clashes in 2008, Garo-Rabha conflict (2010-11) and the Karbi-Dimasa conflict (2008).
Such incidents have led to deaths and displacement and many are still living in refugee camps. While containment of violence and restoration of law and order have become the parameters of sustainable peace in Assam, there has been never any attempt at resolving structural issues such as ethnic reconciliation, encroachment of land by illegal migrants and settlement of foreigners issue through an updated National Citizenship Registrar.
Over the years, there has been as massive increase in the number of illegal Muslim migrants and it has become a serious issue of identity crisis for the indigenous population. This situation has been facilitated by a vacuum where the Bodos and the lower middle classes have withdrawn themselves from agriculture-centric occupation and moved to the organised sectors. The gap is being filled by immigrant Muslims. Besides infrastructure construction has brought cheap immigrant labourers to the region.
Since the 1960s the Bodos have been fighting for their right to self-determination. The failed Bodo Accord of 1993 gave one message to the Bodo insurgents: it is crucial to have an exclusive and homogenous Bodoland. Consequently, nearly 800 people mostly santhals, immigrant Muslims, Bodos, Koch-Rajbangshi, Assamese and Bengali Hindus have lost their lives between 1993 and 2000. The 2003 BTC accord, which was signed between the then BJP government and the Bodo Liberation Tiger Force (BLT), also failed to resolve the inherent contradictions as it could not ensure the protection of the non-Bodos living in the BTC areas.
A conglomerate of 27 non-Bodo organisations has been launching the movement for excluding those non-Bodo villages which have been arbitrarily included in the BTC areas. The accord could not resolve the nagging militancy issue — the dreaded National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB anti-Talk) and Kamatapur Liberation Army (KLO) are still causing havoc.
The violence in the Bodoland areas demonstrates that an ethnically constituted exclusive homeland can’t be a panacea for a multicultural society like Assam. The constitutional protection of the Bodos and other indigenous tribes would provide a great sense of security. A durable peace process in the region would also require an amicable solution of the vexed illegal foreigner issue in the state.
NG Mahanta teaches political science at Guwahati University
The views expressed by the author are personal