Northeastern India has seen a pattern for long: when one terror outfit is neutralised, another pops up in hydra-head fashion. The most recent such organisation is the Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Boroland. On the ascendant in terms of strike potential, it has gone on a killing spree in the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts in Lower Assam over the past few weeks. In one recent series of attacks, eight persons were killed, including Muslims and Hindi-speaking Bengalis. While the NDFB (S) has come out with statements accusing the security forces of targeting Bodo civilians, its plan is clearly to drive a wedge between Bodos and non-Bodos. The turmoil that engulfed Lower Assam in July 2012 that claimed 96 lives and left lakhs of Muslims and Bodos traumatised and displaced, is fresh in memory. While the Ranjan Daimary faction of the NDFB signed a ceasefire agreement with the Central and the State governments in November 2013, the faction led by I.K. Songbijit refused to join the process. Songbijit, who was the Daimary’s faction’s ‘commander-in-chief’, broke away in late-2012. Remaining in Myanmar, he is now believed to be in league with Paresh Baruah of the ULFA (I), and S.S. Khaplang, chief of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (K). The prospect of the three teaming up with the Kamatapur Liberation Organisation, poses a new challenge.
As the movement demanding a homeland for the Bodo people runs its course through its second decade, it remains one of the most serious potential sources of violent political confrontation in the region. Even admitting that the Bodo cause stems from the perception of their not being a part of the composite indigenous population of Assam, extortions, kidnapping and other atrocities have over time undermined any legitimacy the movement could claim. The State government has made clear its resolve to clamp down on violence, and the Assam Police have declared 15 leaders of the NDFB (S), including Songbijit himself, as “most wanted”, even putting a price of Rs. 95 lakh on them. Considering that the outfit is estimated to have less than 250 cadres, firm enough action does not appear to be a tall order. Inter-State intelligence cooperation will be key. At a point when sustained and aggressive action by the government, with some help from across the border in Bangladesh, has substantially broken the back of militancy at large in northeastern India, the latest threat should be met with a firm hand. Meanwhile, the process of peace involving the two other dominant Bodo groups, led respectively by Dhiren Boro and Ranjan Daimary, should be handled with fairness and magnanimity.