Shutdown in Assam; non-Bodo groups say pact may not work
The third Bodo peace accord was signed in New Delhi on Monday, but non-Bodo groups and opposition parties in the state feel the deal might not bring lasting peace to Bodo-dominated areas, as expected.
On the day the deal was inked with all four factions of National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), several non-Bodo groups called a 12-hour shutdown in protest, affecting normal life in several districts of Assam.
While Bodo groups welcomed the deal by bursting firecrackers and distributing sweets, non-Bodo organisations like the All Koch Rajbongshi Students Union, All Bodoland Minority Students Union, All Adivasi Students Union, Kalita Janagosthi Students Union and All Assam Nath-Jogi Students Union blocked roads and burnt effigies of central and state ministers.
“Since 2003, after the signing of the second Bodo peace accord, non-Bodo residents of Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) had been seeking its review as it affected their rights. But instead of that, the Centre went ahead and signed another deal,” said Naba Kumar Sarania, Independent MP from Kokrajhar.
As per Monday’s deal, the name of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), which administers BTAD, would be changed to Bodoland Territorial Region along with the accruing of a slew of economic and political benefits.
“The new accord is undemocratic and unconstitutional. There are just 21% Bodos in BTAD area while the rest are non-Bodos. But none of these groups were consulted prior to going ahead with the deal. This unilateral accord will lead to further isolation of non-Bodos and won’t bring lasting peace,” said Pranab Narayan Deb, scion of the Darrang Koch royal family.
President of All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU), Rejaul Karim Sarkar, said that while they welcome a permanent solution to the Bodo issue, Monday’s accord won’t bring that about.
“Non-Bodos were kept in the dark when Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC) was formed in 1993. The same thing happened when BTC was formed in 2003 and today it got repeated again. We appeal to Centre and state government to hold talks with all stakeholders before implementing the pact,” he said.
Opposition Congress also stated that a peace deal without taking all players, including non-Bodo organisations, might not have the desired impact.
“I had requested Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal to listen non-Bodo groups before signing the deal so that it is foolproof. Instead of welcoming the deal, many organisations called a shutdown on Monday, which shows people are not satisfied,” said leader of opposition in Assam assembly, Debabrata Saikia.
The ruling BJP, however, denied the charges and expressed confidence that the deal would be able to bring permanent peace to Bodo-dominated areas and the rest of Assam.
“We welcome the pact. It will address a long standing demand of the Bodo people and since all rebel outfits and All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) are part of it, the accord will bring lasting peace,” said BJP spokesperson, Rupam Goswami.
“The deal won’t hurt the interests of non-Bodo people living in BTAD areas. It will be ensured that their rights are protected. Those finding flaws with the accord are doing so because of their political agenda,” he added.
Chief Minister Sonowal also issued a statement welcoming the deal and tried to allay the apprehensions of non-Bodo communities that the accord would hurt their interests.
“No community residing in Assam should have any fear or worry about the deal. This deal will respect the rights of all the Bodo leadership and people will have to take people from other communities into confidence while implementing the deal,” Sonowal said.