Non-Bodos can move out of autonomous region, says Himata Biswa Sarma
The Centre will soon set up a commission to allow non-Bodo villages within Assam’s Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) to opt-out of its jurisdiction and other contiguous areas with majority Bodo or tribal population to become its part, state minister Himata Biswa Sarma said on Tuesday.
The announcement came a day after the government signed an accord with the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB)’s four factions and two other influential regional outfits to end a decades-old armed movement for a separate state.
“For the first time, non-Bodos have the option to move out... while Bodo villages outside the council can be included,” he said. He added a neutral person will head the panel and have representation for all stakeholders. Sarma said the Centre will constitute it for the BTR’s demarcation and reorganisation.
The commission will also have a re-look into the powers of the BTR, whose functioning would be streamlined as per the agreement. The commission will suggest measures to safeguard land rights of tribals and to protect/promote the identity of Bodo people.
“There was a social conflict in the BTR due to political reasons but the accord has addressed the concerns of both Bodos and non-Bodos residing there and we are sure that this will usher in peace and development in the region,” said Sarma.
Sarma said over 1,500 cadres of the four NDFB factions will lay down arms at a function to be held either in Guwahati or Udalguri. “...I request all the remaining militant outfits of Assam and Manipur to give up arms and take part in peace talks,” Sarma said.
Sarma asked Paresh Baruah-led United Liberation Front of Assam or ULFA (Independent), the only group not engaged in talks with the Centre, to come forward for negotiations. The other ULFA faction led by Arabinda Rajkhowa joined the peace process in 2011.
Baruah later in the day told a local TV channel that his outfit would join the talks only if there are no formalities and are held in an atmosphere of trust. He added sovereignty will be the “one-point agenda” on the table. “We are demanding sovereignty and that is the one point agenda for us. It should be on the negotiating table. There is no need to go to Delhi for discussions. We would want the talks to be held in Assam,” said Baruah.
Sarma said for the first time, all those seeking a separate Bodoland clearly indicated that Assam’s territorial integrity will be preserved. “From now the demand for Bodoland or a separate state will officially cease. The accord maintains it is the final and comprehensive solution to the Bodo demands.”
Sarma said Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah are expected to visit Assam next month to take part in an event to celebrate the peace accord at Kokrajhar on February 7. He added said Modi may come to Kokrajhar, address a public rally and depart the same evening. “There is no confirmation yet, but we are hopeful he will attend.”
Modi was earlier scheduled to visit Assam for an annual summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Guwahati in December. But the summit was postponed due to protests over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in Assam.