Hope has triumphed once again over guns in the North-east. Only the future can tell if the new council will live up to its promise of peace for the Bodos of Assam. But there is little doubt that the laying down of arms by former Bodo militants signals an entire community’s longing for a new beginning. It may be some time before yesterday’s guerrillas can transform themselves into tomorrow’s administrators. They would certainly need time and guidance to come to grips with teething problems in running the Bodoland Territorial Council. Leaders of the Bodo- land Liberation Tigers, whose cadre wielded arms for over two decades, could find their new roles as members of the council’s executive a whole new experience. But the end of Mizo insurgency or the armed Gorkha rebellion in the Darjeeling hills of West Bengal in the Eighties showed that a genuine desire for peace could overcome all obstacles on the way. The Union home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, was right when he said that the success of the BTC could go a long way in weaning away other militant outfits in the region from their futile paths of violence.
The success of the BTC would, however, depend largely on the lessons that its leaders learn from the failures of earlier attempts to end the Bodo insurgency. It should serve as a warning that the Centre, the Assam government and the BLT took such a long time to form the council even after an agreement had been reached. The biggest challenge to the new council’s future does not come from the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, which continues to thwart the peace process. The earlier attempt to bring peace to the area failed, not because of the NDFB’s opposition to it, but because the Bodoland Autonomous Council of 1993 failed to live up to its promise. The new council cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past. It must start work immediately on the elections, to be held within six months. It is not just a question of abiding by the law which brings the council into existence; the sooner the council gets its democratic structure the better its chances of success. It is also the surest way to involve the common people in the council’s work and isolate spoilers like the NDFB . Having won a round in identity politics, the Bodos now have to make it work.