Lok Sabha elections ground report: The Bodos seem to be at peace, at last | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Lok Sabha elections 2024 | Assam ground report: Bodos seem to be at peace, at last

Feb 20, 2024 12:35 PM IST

So, what’s the deal with Bodos? Quite simply, it is a fierce determination to protect their native culture, language and customs.

A dignified and shy smile with just a hint of impish charm is all she offers when I ask her about future plans. “Let’s see what happens. I am not that good at planning and thinking”, she says.

By and large, Bodos no longer think about violence since they have now the means and the governance powers to protect their culture and heritage.(PTI)
By and large, Bodos no longer think about violence since they have now the means and the governance powers to protect their culture and heritage.(PTI)

It is 7.30 in the evening and Priti still has 90 minutes to wrap up her shift at the front desk in the hotel in Bongaigaon. Since there aren’t many guests coming or going, Priti is free to chat with me. A first-class graduate in English Honours, Priti took up the job on a lark and is having fun, “though I am an introvert”. She is 27 and maybe she will take up another career. Her parents, it seems, are encouraging her to find a boyfriend, fall in love and get married. Priti has not the faintest of interest in politics and elections. We banter on about music, the staged “death” of wannabe celebrity Poonam Pandey and more. But there is steel in her eyes when I ask if she is aware of the Bodo problem.

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“I am a Bodo, and I am proud of my roots and my identity”, is her instant response. She hasn’t followed the agonising efforts towards peace that have finally Bodos getting most of what they wanted. “I don’t know all this. But my parents talk about this all the time at the dinner table and they say how Bodos have got justice after decades of struggle”.

Priti symbolises the myriad ethnic and other fault lines that plague not just Assam, but India as close to a billion voters get ready for a critical Lok Sabha election in which Narendra Modi seems determined to equal the record set by Jawaharlal Nehru of winning three consecutive mandates.

Priti is not concerned, but most Bodos and other Hindus seem to like the idea. Most of the Muslims, in Bongaigaon and nearby Barpeta are not very enthusiastic, though their opposition is comparatively muted.

So, what’s the deal with Bodos? Quite simply, it is a fierce determination to protect their native culture, language and customs. At a deeper level, it is a contest and a struggle for limited land & resources between indigenous Bodos and Bangla speaking Muslims who are described in these parts as “Miyas”. A desire to protect the local and a little bit of regional chauvinism can be seen everywhere in India: in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka, Odisha, West Bengal, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir. For Bodos, it had become a question of survival. After decades of violence, a modicum of peace was established with the Bodo Accord that gave autonomy and a Bodoland Territorial Council with elected members with powers to take governance decisions. The autonomy was strengthened with another landmark Accord of 2020 that has finally brought peace and stability.

This author travelled around Barpeta, Bongaigaon and Kokrajhar and saw visible improvement in infrastructure. For that matter, the author traveled to Guwahati, Nellie, Nagaon and Tejpur too and the improvement in roads and other infrastructure is incredible. Even the dozens of Muslims the author spoke to nodded in appreciation. Of course, they are deeply unhappy with the seemingly anti-Muslim rhetoric that chief minister Himanta Biswa Shama unleashes every now and then.

Priti was 15 years old and in school when this region was last engulfed by communal violence in 2012. In what has become typical across India, there was “provocation” and then a mob of Muslims killed four Bodo youth. Then followed horrific riots in which more than 100 people were killed and over 400,000 displaced. Priti was too busy with school and friends but remembers the agitated conversations between her parents at the kitchen table and their warning to her not to unnecessarily leave the house.

The reverberations were felt across India. Muslims mobs attacked the Amar Jawan Jyoti at Azad Maidan in Mumbai in August 2012 and there was an exodus of people from the north-east from Pune and Bangalore as shadowy Muslim groups threatened them. Mercifully, there has been no major violence after that though small incidents keep cropping up. By and large, Bodos no longer think about violence since they have now the means and the governance powers to protect their culture and heritage.

But there is an irony. Pramod Bramha, the driver who dropped me from the hotel to the Bongaigaon station for a train to Jalpaiguri is also a Bodo. He says they have got most of what they wanted but there is one thing they can possibly never have: a Bodo Lok Sabha MP from this region. Bongaigaon comes under the Barpeta Lok Sabha constituency which has a Muslim population of about 60% as per the 2011 Census. The current MP is Congress leader Abdul Khalique who had defeated his nearest AGP rival in 2019 by more than 140,00 votes.

This is the first in a series of 40 field reports from all corners of India in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls that aim to understand how the country is changing in fundamental ways.

Sutanu Guru is a journalist & author, and is Executive Director of CVoter Foundation

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