The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Deal to protect non-Bodos’ rights

Guwahati, Nov. 13: The Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) tonight “formally agreed” to protect the constitutional rights of the non-Bodos within the proposed Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) and set November 30 as the deadline for demarcating the boundary of the new set-up.

Emerging from a crucial meeting with the four-member Cabinet subcommittee, BLT vice-chairman Kamal Muchahary said his organisation had committed itself to the task of protecting the rights of the non-Bodo community. “We will ensure that it is done,” he said.

However, Muchahary made it clear that the BLT would not accept anything less than 93 additional villages in the BTC territory.

Health minister Bhumidhar Barman, also the chairman of the Cabinet sub-committee, said both sides had “agreed to finalise the BTC boundary by November 30”. Halfway through the marathon meeting, both sides had finalised the inclusion of 18 additional villages in the BTC set-up, official sources said.

The negotiations, if successful, could change the face of the Bodo belt. The volatile region may witness another bloodbath because of friction between forces for and against the new set-up.

The BTC is supposed to replace the “failed” Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC), which was the fruit of a prolonged agitation spearheaded by the All-Bodo Students’ Union. The Bodos believe that the BAC has outlived its utility.

The problem for the state government lies in bringing the Dhaligaon area under the BTC, as it would mean “handing over” the Bongaigaon Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd.

However, a source said there was no acrimony at the meeting. “It is being held in a cordial atmosphere, with both sides appearing relaxed,” he said.

The Sanmilito Janagoshthiyo Sangram Samiti (SJSS), a federation of 19 groups protesting the move to create the BTC, fears that non-Bodos will lose their rights and be reduced to “second-class citizens” if a new council comes into being.

As the BLT leadership and representatives of the state government got ready for the crucial brainstorming session, the SJSS faxed a letter to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, seeking his intervention in the matter. Sources said the letter was faxed a few hours before the BLT delegation went into a huddle with members of the Cabinet sub-committee.

Claiming that non-Bodos constitute 80 per cent of the population in the area that the BTC will administer, the SJSS expressed dismay over the fact that the Centre and the state government were negotiating with “a militant outfit that was engaged in looting, killing and ethnic cleansing of non-Bodo people for 10 to 15 years”. It said the Bodos comprised “a microscopic minority of 12 per cent of the population”.

The SJSS accused the Centre and the state government of “encouraging the fascist way of fulfilling the unrealistic demands (of the Bodos) by violating all legal and constitutional norms”.

Announcing an intensive agitation from November 15, it said, “The Bodo leadership claims that the community constitutes the majority in the whole of Lower Assam, which lies north of the Brahmaputra. This is absolutely outrageous. There is not a single district in this area — comprising Dhubri, Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Barpeta, Nalbari, Darrang and parts of Kamrup — where the Bodos come anywhere near the majority status.”

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