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WINNING WORDS

Talks have triumphed over guns in the Northeast again. All three parties — the Centre, the Assam government and the Bodo Liberation Tigers — deserve to be complimented for making the Bodo accord possible. By steadfastly working toward the agreement, the chief minister, Mr Tarun Gogoi, has redeemed the pledge he had made to the Assamese people during the last election campaign. New Delhi has made his task easier by promising liberal financial aid to the proposed Bodo Territorial Council. The BLT too has shown a commendable spirit of accommodation in agreeing to the revised jurisdiction of the council. The agreement gives the Bodo tribe two basic benefits — an area they can call their homeland and the right to govern themselves. More important, it helps preserve an identity which, they felt, was threatened. Although the council is to be formed under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, the accord gives it more powers than many other autonomous bodies enjoy. Similar councils in Tripura or Mizoram, for instance, do not have the kind of power the BTC will have in agriculture. Wide-ranging powers have also been given to it over the use of forests and protecting tribal social customs .

Having got the accord, the Bodos now have to be worthy of it. They need to work overtime for the council’s success because an earlier council, born of another accord in 1993, had proved a non-starter. That the BLT leaders are aware of their responsibilities was evident in their promise not to repeat the “mistakes” of the past. They should also know that they have two major challenges to overcome. It is almost certain that hard-core elements in the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland would try everything to oppose, and even sabotage, the new council. The NDFB’s militancy will be doomed if the council succeeds. But the council must be able to wean away the poverty-stricken Bodos from militancy. Economic development of the region and devolution of democracy to the grassroots level are the best guarantees against the militants’ pull. The other challenge that the BTC faces is to win the confidence of the non-Bodos living in the council area. The agreement has already generated unease among those communities whose leaders have called it the “death of democracy”. Since the area has a history of bloody ethnic strife between the Bodos and the Santals, the BTC must be even-handed about involving different communities in its work. But first of all, it has to guarantee peace and security to the non-Bodos.

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