Sunday’s carnage in Assam’s Kokrajhar calls for prompt and decisive action against the Bodo militants. The outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland, whose members gunned down 22 innocent non-Bodo villagers, is a particularly brutal outfit. Its notoriety for ethnic killings is matched only by that of the National Liberation Front of Tripura. Its call for a “sovereign” Bodoland barely masks its bloody ways of gaining control over the area. Its depradations have not spared even Bodos who gathered courage to oppose its reign of terror. It is possible that the NDFB wants to unleash another spell of terror to scuttle negotiations for the formation of the Bodoland Territorial Council, an autonomous body to be created under the sixth schedule of the Constitution. The council, which is expected to meet the Bodos’ long-standing demand for self-rule in their area, could go a long way in ending Bodo militancy. While other Bodo groups have negotiated on the council area and its powers, the NDFB depends on its violent methods to unsettle the issue. If it cannot stop the formation of the council, its devilish plan is to cleanse the area of other ethnic groups.
Assam’s chief minister, Mr Tarun Gogoi, has to adopt a two-pronged strategy to foil this heinous plot. He has to continue the talks about the council with democratic organizations of the Bodos and bring them to an early and successful conclusion. Both the Assam government and the Centre have to work in tandem to achieve this. One hopes that Mr Gogoi learns from the mistakes of his predecessors who had set up an autonomous administrative body for Bodo-inhabited areas in the late Eighties. But their moves achieved little primarily because the Bodos suspected them of exploiting the issue to further their own political interests. Whatever his other problems with the council plan, Mr Gogoi cannot afford to leave any room for such misgivings. Simultaneously with continuing the council talks, he has to declare an all-out offensive against the NDFB and any other outfit which terrorizes the people in the area. To do this, Dispur has to move in step with not only New Delhi but also Calcutta, as the Bodo militants are known to operate in some north Bengal districts adjoining Assam. New Delhi’s assistance is crucial to Mr Gogoi’s battle against the insurgents, with the paramilitary forces joining hands with the Assam police. But the Centre’s help is vital for the dismantling of the extremists’ hideouts in the jungles of southern Bhutan. New Delhi has to take up the issue with Thimphu, whose rulers also find the presence of militants in the country a threat to its own security. Peace-loving Bodos would be the first to cheer Mr Gogoi if he can stamp out the militants.