Bodo leaders in New Delhi on Wednesday. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, Sept. 4: A 21-point charter of demands with Bodoland as header was submitted by Bodo groups today to set off on what is expected to be a long-winding path to a political settlement.
The Centre is opposed to the division of Assam and so is the state government. Officials today pointed out to the Bodo groups that their community’s population was too small and there were others like Koch Rajbongshis who were opposed to the creation of a Bodo state.
Answers were well rehearsed by the Bodos: Bodo tribe population may be one-third in “Bodoland” but the single largest community can wield power by taking others on board. The Centre was represented in the tripartite talks by joint secretary (Northeast) Shambhu Singh and Intelligence Bureau joint director A.K. Mishra. The Assam government was represented by home secretary Mukti Gogoi.
The proposed Bodoland is sought to be carved out of Assam on the “lines of Telangana”, according to the charter. The groups iterated that they want a separate state carved out of Assam for tribals on the north side of the Brahmaputra in what would be a long strip of land extending from river Sankosh in the west to Sadiya in the east.
The All Bodo Students Union (Absu) was at the forefront, once again making evident the vital role students’ organisations play in the politics of the Northeast.
As the Bodo groups dwelt on history, the Centre questioned the student body why a demand for statehood resurfaced when Absu had supported the Bodoland Territorial Council Accord of 2003.
“Absu had supported the BTC Accord to resolve the BLT problem and the government had then informed us that there was no policy for creating a separate state,” Absu president Pramod Boro told The Telegraph. “We told the government that since Telangana is to be created, then Bodoland is our constitutional right,” he said.
Telangana has become the premise for most groups demanding new states in Assam, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.
Boro justified the demands, questioning the logic of non-Bodo organisations opposing the formation of “Bodoland”.
“Non-Bodos’ demands have no logic. They can demand for themselves, but how can they stop others from demanding their rights?” he told reporters. Non-Bodo protests have paralysed life akin to the Seemandhra protests for a united Andhra Pradesh. Those problems, however, could be gradually resolved once the state is formed, the Bodo leaders said.
Besides Absu, the 13-member delegation included senior leaders like former MP U.G. Brahma, Jebraram Muchahary and Bodoland People’s Progressive Front’s Rabiram Narzary. Brahma said they were “positive” about the outcome and took it for granted that the deliberations are set to be lengthy.
The next round of talks is in mid-October. Tomorrow, dialogue will be held with the Bodoland People’s Party (BPF) and Bodo National Conference.
Other major demands include bringing Bodo-Kacharis into the list of hill Scheduled Tribes and granting equal status to Bodos living elsewhere in Assam.
The design of “Bodoland” also pre-empts demands from other communities either within Bodoland or on its fringes. Autonomous councils of the Misings, Tiwas and Rabhas should be brought under Sixth Schedule, the Bodo groups have said. BTC is the only such entity comprising plains tribes under the Sixth Schedule. This constitutional provision grants autonomy — sans power to control law and order — to the tribal council even to frame its own laws.
“But there have been problems and the Bodos are aggrieved that laws that were passed years ago in the BTC have not received the governor’s assent till now,” said veteran journalist B.G. Verghese.
Governance aside, Bodos reasserted their identity today. The demands include a Bodo Regiment in the army on the lines of the Naga Regiment and Assam Regiment. A central Bodo language bureau was also sought.
The Centre should also assist in power generation from the rivers in “Bodoland” and grant an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Bodoland, the groups petitioned.