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Mandate against ‘victimisation’

Kokrajhar, May 16: Never have the concerns of the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD) been as grave and grievous as they have in these Lok Sabha elections.

As the election office at Kokrajhar, from where the Bodo Territorial Council governs the BTAD, declared Naba Kumar (alias Hira) Sarania the victor of the Kokrajhar Lok Sabha constituency, one thing became instantly clear — that the 70 per cent non-Bodo population who make up the BTAD had spoken out and loudly not just in favour of Sarania but against the “political victimisation” they have suffered in the BTAD over the past few years allegedly because of their opposition to the formation of “Bodoland”.

Sarania, their candidate and a former Ulfa commander who has joined the outfit’s pro-talks group, defeated U.G. Brahma, a former Rajya Sabha MP and former Absu president, and state transport minister Chandan Brahma, a former militant leader and BPF candidate. Sarania won by over three lakh votes.

The BTAD was constituted in 2003 after a prolonged agitation by the Absu and a violent movement by the BLT. Eleven years since, the birth pangs of the BTAD, which is still short of full statehood, aren’t over with anger spilling onto the streets and villages in the districts under it. Riots in the area in 2012 had left more than four lakh people displaced and around 150 killed. The toll in the two-day attacks on a minority community this month left at least 46 dead. Blame for the violence has often been laid at the door of the BPF that governs the BTAD, along with militant organisations such as the NDFB (Songbijit).

Despite its mandate in the BTAD, the BPF has been blamed for failing to get the Bodo community a separate state, something that has led to a friction between the party and the Absu.

The non-Bodos, in the meantime, rallied as the collective OBodos under the umbrella of the Sanmilito Jonogosthiyo Oikyo Moncho. In the militancy-torn BTAD, they then brought in Sarania, who they believed would be the best contender to fight U.G. Brahma and Chandan Brahma on their home turf.

All the while and purely from a “balancing it out” point of view, the authorities were hoping that U.G. Brahma, who had the support of Absu, would slip through. “Brahma is a Bodo, moderate and opposed to militant forces but he would not be able to win without the support of non-Bodos. His win would have helped us keep peace in the area,” a senior government official said.

The nuances of the Bodoland movement have also changed over the past years. Taking notice of their failure to get the Bodos a separate Bodoland, the BPF this time round refused to field Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmu-thiary, who, dressed in his traditional Bodo jacket, scarf and cap had became the lone face of the Bodoland movement in Parliament. He had won the Kokrajhar seat four times in a row before this, thrice as an Independent and once as a BPF candidate. Having lost the BPF’s favour, he this time contested as an Independent.

But there is a flip side to Sarania’s win. As Absu president Promod Boro told The Telegraph, “Sarania’s victory proves that Bodos are politically insecure. It is because of this that we need a separate Bodoland.” Added BPF chief Hagrama Mohilary: “Today’s results will have no impact on the Bodoland movement. We will continue to fight.”

Security

Security forces remained on high alert in trouble-torn BTAD to prevent any outbreak of violence following declaration of election results.

Six army and air force helicopters were pressed into service for aerial surveillance to supplement ground patrolling in sensitive areas, including the India-Bhutan border, to foil any attempt by militants of the I.K. Songbijit faction of the NDFB to sneak in from the neighbouring country to carry out strikes.

“All necessary security arrangements are in place to prevent any untoward incident in the BTAD and the adjoining areas. Inspector-general of police (law and order) S.N. Singh is camping in Baksa to monitor the situation,” additional director-general of police (law and order) A.P. Raut told The Telegraph.

More than 100 companies of central paramilitary forces, army columns and state armed police have been deployed in the Bodo belt and adjoining districts while additional columns have been kept on standby. Altogether 141 fixed pickets and 35 mobile pickets have been set up in the sensitive areas. Security forces are keeping a strict vigil,” Raut said.

Following the recent carnage in the BTAD, there has been widespread apprehension of more bloodshed after election results are declared.

Home commissioner G.D. Tripathi said, “All arrangements have been made to deal with any eventuality. Additional security forces have been deployed and restrictive orders passed.”

As a precautionary measure, the state government has prohibited victory processions in the four BTAD districts of Kokrajhar, Baksa, Chirang and Udalguri and the adjoining districts of Dhubri, Goalpara, Barpeta, Nalbari, Bongaigaon and Kamrup. All emergency services including fire, civil defence, village defence parties and homeguards have been kept ready.

A meeting of the state-level crisis management group, chaired by chief secretary Jitesh Khosla and held in Dispur yesterday, reviewed the security arrangements in the BTAD.

Two persons were killed and at least nine seriously injured when security forces open fired at a mob outside Panbari police outpost in Bijni subdivision of Chirang district this evening.

Sources said a mob from Hadan area gheaored the outpost in protest against the army shooting at and injuring a village youth, Rajib Basumatary. The police said the protesters injured a policeman and a driver and also damaged a few vehicles at the outpost, forcing them to open fire which killed two persons on the spot and injured many.

Nine seriously injured persons were admitted to a private hospital in Bongaigaon. The deceased were yet to be identified. Several organisations, including the Absu, have demanded a high-level inquiry into the incident and punishment to the guilty security personnel.

In another incident, a minor boy, Biraj Brahma of Nongkua under Parbhajhora subdivision in Kokrajhar, was shot at by suspected NDFB (S) militants.

The National Human Rights Commission today issued notice to state chief secretary Jitesh Khosla and director-general of police Khagen Sarma over alleged involvement of forest guards’ in the recent killings in the BTAD. It has called for factual reports within two weeks, PTI said quoting an NHRC release.

Additional reporting by our correspondent in Guwahati