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Gogoi-Bodo meet sets up talks

Guwahati, May 28: Unknown to most people even in the Assam government, four leaders of the banned National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) met chief minister Tarun Gogoi in Dispur a week ago, marking the first step towards what could be the decisive dialogue for peace in the Bodo heartland.

A report in the May 23 edition of The Telegraph had said some NDFB leaders were on a hush-hush visit to Guwahati to prepare the ground for peace talks with the Centre.

The four NDFB leaders met Gogoi on May 22 after being assured of “safe passage” and escorted to the capital complex under utmost secrecy. The outfit’s “finance and home secretary”, Nileswar Basumatary alias B. Jabda, led the delegation. Its “judicial secretary”, B. Jwkhrub, is one of the other three members of the team.

Sources said the chief minister was non-committal on the outfit’s demand for a separate state, but both sides agreed to hold another round of informal talks either in Shillong or Dimapur, the commercial hub of Nagaland, in two months’ time.

The NDFB is fighting for a “sovereign Boroland” and has rejected the creation of a Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) — envisaged in the tripartite Bodo accord — as a solution to the Bodo problem. The accord was signed between the rival Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) and the Centre and the state government on February 10.

Under the arrangement, the BLT gave up its demand for statehood and agreed to the creation of a new administrative council in accordance with an amended Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. It is believed that the NDFB felt alienated from the Bodo people after the accord was signed.

NDFB chairman Ranjan Daimary had constituted a three-member committee comprising general secretary Gobinda Basumatary, vice-chairman Dhiren Boro and publicity secretary B. Erakdao in April last year to initiate talks with the Centre. The proposal had come from the militant group’s “national council”.

However, both the general secretary and the vice-chairman were arrested before the committee could get down to the assigned task. Sikkim police took Boro into custody in Gangtok on January 1, while Assam police apprehended Basumatary in Rangiya on November 26 last year.

Dispur has since been communicating with the NDFB think-tank through the arrested duo and the May 22 meeting is believed to be the outcome of these efforts.

Before that, the Union home ministry had sent feelers to the outfit about the Centre’s willingness to hold an informal dialogue even abroad. The message was conveyed to the outfit’s “speaker”, Sunil Brahma, during a meeting in Dimapur on September 11, 2002.

Brahma, who was arrested in Calcutta recently along with another militant leader, received the message and some addresses from Intelligence Bureau officials.

A source in the NDFB said his organisation’s “national council” was convinced that Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga was the “best man” to be its interlocutor in peace talks. He said the NDFB wanted the proposed dialogue to be on the lines of the one between the Centre and the NSCN (I-M).

Official sources claimed that pressure was mounting on the militant outfit’s leadership to begin peace talks with the government as soon as possible because funds were scarce and members holed up in Bhutan were physically and mentally affected by an outbreak of malaria.

Members of the 1st and 2nd battalion camps at the NDFB headquarters in Bhutan are making do without medicines. Food is in short supply, too. “Because of the financial crunch, NDFB militants have not received their family allowance for months. On particular days, the militants go without even a single meal. The recent arrest of top leaders has demoralised the militants,” a source said.

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