As GJM, BPF and others plan to agitate jointly in Assam, Darjeeling, it is the north-east that stands to suffer

The Union Home Ministry is fearing that protests could escalate in the north-east following reports that Bodos and Gorkhas are planning to launch a joint movement to apply pressure on the Centre for their respective statehood demands.

Even as backdoor negotiations are in progress between the Ministry and States, the proposed economic blockade in Assam and Darjeeling hills would disrupt crucial supplies to the north-east.

Bodo and Gorkha leaders, viewing the announcement of the creation of Telangana as an act of betrayal, are now pressing for statehood all the more aggressively. So far, the two groups have been carrying out agitations in their respective areas of dominance, but now, Ministry sources say, they are planning to join hands in their identical fight.

Government sources say outfits like the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which is strong in the Darjeeling hills, and the Bodoland People’s Front and the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) are closing ranks to devise a joint strategy.

As a result, there have been hectic parleys between the Bodo, Gorkha groups and the Centre, Assam and West Bengal governments. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi recently visited Delhi and held talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the Bodoland issue.

Tripartite talks

Bodo leaders, in turn, have met Dr. Singh and Mr. Gogoi, and the latter has promised that tripartite talks would be held among the Centre, States and Bodo groups after August 15.

Senior Ministry officials looking after the north-east issues are worried that escalation of protests in Assam and the northern parts of West Bengal could lead to strong demands for more States by Assam’s Karbis, Koch Rajbongshis and Dimasa people, besides the Kukis and Nagas of Manipur.

“The announcement for separate Telangana should have been made after taking Bodos and Gorkhas into confidence as they are a major force to deal with in the north-east when it comes to demand for separate statehood. We have always told them there is no policy for announcing new States… But now, the Telangana issue has left us with no answers. We are trying to hold talks with them and convince them that there are various parameters such as economic viability and strategic issues that decide the issue of statehood. We now foresee tough negotiations from these groups in order to broker peace in the region,” said a senior official.

Centre may needto intervene

Though the Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal has rejected the demand for creation of Gorkhaland and given indications that violent protests will be dealt with toughly, the Centre might have to intervene if the joint agitations manage to cut off the north-east from the country.

“If these groups manage to disrupt railway operations and block food and other supplies to other States in the region, it could be a nightmare situation for the Centre and the State governments… The government can not afford more trouble in a region which has a long history of violence and public unrest,” the Home Ministry official said.

According to BPF leader and Kokrajhar MP S.K. Bwiswmuthiary: “After the Telangana announcement, Bodo people are feeling cheated… They will not rest till they achieve a separate Bodoland. We are now geared up for a final agitation with support from other groups. Apart from their unique identity, Bodos feel that the perennial problem of backwardness and development could be addressed only through a separate State.”

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