Assam has been burning for the past decade, with arson, loot, murders, extortions and violence crippling normal life in the state. But the days of uncertainty and fear could be coming to an end soon, at least in regions which have a dominant Bodo population.
This was signalled by a tripartite accord signed in New Delhi recently between the Centre, the state government and the Bodo Liberation Tigers. As a result of this accord, the Bodo territorial council will be set up, which will function as an autonomous administrative body.
This new accord may well be the foundation of a lasting settlement of the long-drawn insurgency that has crippled Assam for more than 10 years now. It is now the responsibility of the BLT and the Assam government to abide faithfully by the clauses of this settlement and thus achieve lasting peace.
The broad outlines of the settlement are encouraging. According to the accord, the BLT would work for the interests of the Bodos and the tribals within the BTC region. In this, it could draw lessons from the experience of the district administration council set up in the Darjeeling hills and the manner in which the idea of autonomy was put into practice there.
Though there are many differences between the two, the Bodo settlement is broadly along the same lines as the agreement signed by the Gorkha National Liberation Front, headed by Subash Ghising, which led to the formation of the autonomous Darjeeling Hill Council over a decade ago.
It is another matter that the council proposed in the present Bodo accord falls within the scope of the fifth schedule of the Constitution, while the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council is governed by another schedule.
The principal difference however arises from the fact that while the GNLF was the sole representative of the Gorkhas, and Ghising its undisputed leader, several players are involved in the Bodo agitation. The BLT undoubtedly enjoys the support of a large section of the tribals in Assam, but there is also the All Bodo Students Union, which had entered into an agreement with the Union government and the Assam government a few years ago.
The terms and conditions agreed upon then have hardly been put into practice by any of the parties. Also the reaction of the ABSU to the present BLT accord is not known.
Apart from these two, there is also the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, which has not only been engaged in an armed conflict with the state but has also persisted with the demand for a separate Bodoland. In fact, the NDFB leadership, which also has links with the militant United Liberation Front of Asom, has even spoken at various times of a solution outside the framework of the Constitution. However, the NDFB has not come out against the recent BLT accord.
The fact that the tripartite BLT settlement does not address any of these demands, has led many to express an apprehension about its prospects.
Generally, a sincere agreement, which attempts to give limited autonomy, goes a long way in restoring the confidence of the people of backward regions, and can result in a lasting peace, unless there is outside intervention as in Jammu and Kashmir. Such an accord is an indication that the parties are genuinely interested in peace.
The new accord for the Bodo-dominated regions of Assam too will achieve its objective only if the political leadership at all levels displays a sense of purpose and takes care to include the people of the region in the democratic processes.
Similarly, BLT leaders will also have to strive to involve at least the influential sections of the NDFB and the ABSU in the Bodo council, instead of reducing the envisaged 46-member body into an instrument for the aggrandizement of its own leadership.