Bodos jubilant, other communities miffed

Assam government says the ‘historic accord’ signed by the Centre has a lot to offer for all ethnicities

Published - January 29, 2020 03:00 am IST - GUWAHATI

Celebration time:  Bodo women dancing during a welcome for tribal leaders at Chirang in Assam on Tuesday.

Celebration time: Bodo women dancing during a welcome for tribal leaders at Chirang in Assam on Tuesday.

The third Bodo Accord since 1993, signed on Monday to end the demand for a separate State or Union Territory for the Bodo community, evoked jubilation and despondency in Assam, primarily across the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD).

The State government allayed the fears of some 20 non-Bodo communities living in BTAD, pointing out that the “historic accord” has a lot to offer for them besides the Bodos, the largest plains tribe in the northeast.

The Bodos began celebrating soon after the Centre signed the accord with all factions of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB), the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) and others on Monday afternoon. They distributed sweets, burst firecrackers and sang and danced late into the night.

“This is a historic accord signed keeping in mind the interests of all communities living in the BTAD. I don’t think it has room for any complaint,” Rajya Sabha member Biswajit Daimary said at a public function in Chirang, one of the four districts in the BTAD.

Grand reception

Thousands of Bodos from the BTAD areas had earlier in the day thronged the Guwahati airport to receive the leaders of the extremist and civil society groups who signed the accord.

ABSU president Promod Bodo seconded Mr. Daimary, saying the accord was inclusive and would ensure lasting peace in the BTAD that had been torn apart by four decades of violence and ethnic conflicts.

But the non-Bodos said the accord did not have anything positive for them. “We are not against the peace process but this accord has ignored the interests of the other ethnic communities in the area. In fact, the government has repeated the mistakes made during the signing of the BTC (Bodoland Territorial Council) Accord,” said Naba Kumar Sarania, the independent Lok Sabha member from Kokrajhar constituency in the BTAD.

The BTC governs the BTAD. This council was formed after the second Bodo accord in 2003, replacing the Bodoland Autonomous Council that the first accord in 1993 offered. Monday’s accord renamed the BTC as the Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) with more administrative and fiscal powers.

Mr. Sarania, a non-Bodo, retained his Parliament seat on the strength of the non-Bodo votes who together account for 70% of the population in the BTAD.

‘Rights of non-Bodos ignored’

Hiteswar Barman, adviser to the All Koch-Rajbongshi Students’ Union, put the non-Bodo population at 73%. “In pleasing 27% of people, the Centre ignored the political, social and economic rights of the non-Bodos in BTAD,” he said.

Ibrahim Ali Ahmed, the working president of the All Bodo Minority Students’ Union, foresaw doom for the non-tribal people. “It is unfortunate that the non-tribal stakeholders were kept in the dark about this accord. We are not optimistic as the 2003 accord did not prevent injustice to the non-tribal people,” he said.

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said the pact has balanced the aspirations of everyone in BTR and adjoining areas. “The peace accord keeps the territorial integrity of Assam intact. All the clauses will be executed with the support of all stakeholders and no community living in the State should be worried about the pact,” he said.

Assam Finance and Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma insisted the accord will bring peace between the Bodos and non-Bodos as there are provisions for exclusion of areas dominated by non-Bodos from the BTR and inclusion of tribal-dominated areas in the council.

Officials, however, are wary of complications in the hills of central Assam far from the BTAD because of the provision in the accord giving Scheduled Tribe (Hills) status to the Bodos living in Dima Hasao and Karbi Anglong districts.

“The Bodos are from the plains and they are enjoying the status of ST. If the Bodos of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao are granted ST (H) status, it will infringe upon the rights enjoyed by the Karbi and Dimasa tribes, who are the scheduled tribes of the hills,” said Dimasa Students’ Union general secretary Pramith Sengyung.

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