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Battlelines drawn over Bodoland

Guwahati, April 23: In Kokrajhar and Mangaldoi constituencies, the general elections are largely a fight between those seeking a separate Bodoland and those opposed to its creation.

The demand for a separate Bodoland is the main election issue in Kokrajhar and it has had a spillover effect on the adjoining Mangaldoi seat, as three Assembly constituencies of Mangaldoi — Paneri, Udalguri and Mazbat — are included in the proposed state.

For the Sanmilito Jonogosthiyo Oikyo Moncho — an umbrella body of non-Bodo organisations opposing the separate state demand — the election results of Kokrajhar seat will act as a sort of referendum on the Bodoland issue.

The Moncho has fielded Naba Kumar Sarania alias Hira Sarania, a former Ulfa leader, as an Independent form Kokrajhar seat.

“We have fielded our candidate in Kokrajhar since it is the epicentre of Bodo political hegemony and the poll results will have a direct bearing on their demand for a separate state,” Jamsher Ali, the spokesperson for the Mancha, told The Telegraph.

“The poll result will reflect what the majority of people feel about the demand for Bodoland. If Bodoland is created it will deprive 75 per cent of the non-Bodos of their constitutional and human rights,” he said.

Ali claimed the result would also impact the report that will be submitted by the one-man expert committee of former Union home secretary G.K. Pillai.

The panel was constituted by the Centre to study and examine the demand for Bodoland.

“If our candidate wins, he will raise the issue of non-Bodos living in the BTAD in Parliament,” he said.

Exuding confidence that Kokrajhar seat would be wrested from the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), Ali said this was the first time since 1977 that a non-Bodo candidate had been put up against the parties representing “Bodo political hegemony”.

Although the Moncho has not supported any candidate in Mangaldoi constituency, some of its constituents, like the Oboro Suraksha Samiti, have lent their weight behind AGP candidate Madhab Rajbanshi.

The Oboro Suraksha Samiti had issued an appeal and distributed pamphlets among voters of Mangaldoi to vote for Rajbanshi to protect the interests of non-Bodos living in the BTAD.

The Samiti was critical of both the Congress and the BJP. It said the Congress had paved the way for further division of Assam by setting up the G.K. Pillai committee while the BJP also indirectly supported Bodoland by supporting creation of smaller states.

Following the creation of Telangana, the Bodo heartland erupted for creation of Bodoland with renewed vigour. This issue has now spilled over into the election arena.

The BPF, which has fielded Assam transport minister Chandan Brahma from Kokrajhar, is taking credit for the constitution of the G.K. Pillai committee by the Centre and has made it an election issue.

The influential All Bodo Students’ Union (Absu), which is spearheading the movement for a separate state, had sided with the Bodoland People’s Progressive Front (BPPF), led by former Absu president Rabi Ram Narzary, and extended its support to BPPF’s candidate, U.G. Brahma.

The BJP has not fielded any candidate in Kokrajhar but it also supports U.G. Brahma.

Absu president Pramod Boro said the creation of Bodoland in an important election issue but it is not the only issue.

“Good governance, development of all communities — particularly the downtrodden sections — protection of life and property and prevention of corruption are some of the other issues on which our candidate is contesting,” Boro said.

Asked if the reason for the understanding with the BJP was its support for creating smaller states, Boro avoided a direct reply and said: “It will be the responsibility of any party that comes to power at the Centre to fulfil our legitimate demand for creation of Bodoland.”

Poll day plans

Seven polling stations in Kokrajhar will be monitored through webcasting and proceedings will be video-recorded at 10 sensitive booths, Kokrajhar deputy commissioner and district election officer Nitin Khade said.

Kokrajhar has a history of largescale violence during elections and the administration does not want to take chances. Khade said a helicopter would also be used during emergencies and for area domination on polling day.