Termed as “historic” by many, this was in fact the third Bodo accord in the series
Termed as “historic” by many, this was in fact the third Bodo accord in the series|EastMojo Image
OPINION

Bodo Accord: A new paradigm  

The accord will hopefully bring an end to armed hostilities in the area as 1,615 cadres of the four NDFB factions formally laid down arms before CM Sarbananda Sonowal at a ceremony in Guwahati 

Anirban Choudhury

Anirban Choudhury

Plagued by years of violence, there’s finally a ray of hope for peace and prosperity in trouble-torn Bodoland area as a tripartite Bodo accord was signed by the Centre, Government of Assam and Bodo organisations in New Delhi on January 27. Termed as “historic” by many, this was in fact the third Bodo accord in the series – the first being signed in 1993 that led to formation of Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC) and then the second one in 2003 that led to creation of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).

Signed by the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU), the United Bodo People’s Organisation (UBPO) and all the four factions of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB), the latest accord proposes to upgrade the existing BTC by rechristening it as Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) and vesting it with more executive, legislative and financial powers for the 40 departments it already controls.

While eight new additional departments will be transferred to it, BTR will now even have a say in the appointments of Deputy Commissioners (DCs) and Superintendents of Police (SPs) in the four districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri, though Dispur will still continue to control the Home and Police departments. The DCs will even report to the Chief Executive Member (CEM) on matters pertaining to development departments of their respective districts.

a Central university, a national sports university, a North East Regional Institute of Medical Sciences and a National Institute of Technology will be set up in BTR as per the accord provisions

Also, the number of seats in BTC will be increased from 40 to 60 even as it would no longer have to depend entirely on the Assam government for funds. A satellite body to be christened Bodo-Kachari Autonomous Council will also be constituted for development of Bodo villages outside the BTR, even as Scheduled Tribe (Hills) status will be given to the Bodos living in the hill districts of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao. Further, a Central university, a national sports university, a North East Regional Institute of Medical Sciences and a National Institute of Technology will be set up in BTR as per the accord provisions.

The accord will hopefully bring an end to armed hostilities in the area as 1,615 cadres of the four NDFB factions formally laid down arms before Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal at a ceremony in Guwahati three days later, besides depositing 178 weapons and 4,803 ammunition

The accord will hopefully bring an end to armed hostilities in the area as 1,615 cadres of the four NDFB factions formally laid down arms before Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal at a ceremony in Guwahati three days later, besides depositing 178 weapons and 4,803 ammunition.

A massive gathering was organised in Kokrajhar to celebrate the signing of the Bodo Peace Accord
A massive gathering was organised in Kokrajhar to celebrate the signing of the Bodo Peace Accord
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Actually, the latest Bodo accord can be seen as setting a new paradigm in ways more than one. While it’s too early to comment on how the situation ultimately evolves in BTAD in the days to come, the agreement could set a new benchmark in how the complex ethno-political issues in the Northeast are resolved.

This has led to hope that this accord will perhaps withstand the test of time. And that New Delhi is expected to toe this line in resolving other pending issues in the Northeast can be gauged from the fact that it has also made it amply clear to various Naga groups that there would be only one Naga accord, which everyone would have to sign

Be it the 16-Point Agreement of 1960 or the Shillong Accod of 1975, besides the two previous Bodo accords, most peace deals in the region had fallen through in the past as not every group could be brought on board. However, this is for the first time that all factions of Bodo groups have together signed a peace deal.

This has led to hope that this accord will perhaps withstand the test of time. And that New Delhi is expected to toe this line in resolving other pending issues in the Northeast can be gauged from the fact that it has also made it amply clear to various Naga groups that there would be only one Naga accord, which everyone would have to sign.

However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. While the first hurdle of reaching an agreement with all groups on board have been overcome, the challenge now lies in how these groups reconcile their differences and bitter rivalry, and co-opt each other as a team to serve the common man. Past events of bloody factional feuds don’t inspire much hope, though it would be unfair to be entirely dismissive of the new accord either. Similarly, there are non-Bodo communities who have their own grievances and resent too much power being concentrated on the Bodos.

The Bodo community of Assam has been seeking the creation of a Bodoland state for several decades now
The Bodo community of Assam has been seeking the creation of a Bodoland state for several decades now
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Thousands of lives have already been lost in ethnic clashes in the area in the past three decades. Further, other Scheduled Tribes (Hills) are opposed to the Bodos being granted the same status as this will further eat into their reservation quotas. Then, there is the issue of political aspirations of other ethnic groups in the area like the Koch Rajbongshis, whose demand for Kamatapur overlaps the Bodos.

Further, with the kind of powers being conferred on BTR, whose previous avatar as BTC was already under Sixth Schedule, it will undoubtedly become the most powerful tribal council of its kind. This might further fuel demand for similar powers by other councils in Assam and some North-eastern States, which could complicate the State-council relations

Further, there’s the murmur of dissent by non-Bodo communities, which has found echo in Kokarajhar’s Lok Sabha MP Naba Sarania as he expressed his dismay at the accord having been signed without him being even aware or taken into confidence. Inclusion of non-Bodo villages under BTC has also been a thorn in the flesh for quite some time now, though Assam’s finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma assured that a committee would be formed to look

Further, with the kind of powers being conferred on BTR, whose previous avatar as BTC was already under Sixth Schedule, it will undoubtedly become the most powerful tribal council of its kind. This might further fuel demand for similar powers by other councils in Assam and some North-eastern States, which could complicate the State-council relations.

The new accord thus could further complicate the already fragile socio-ethnic, economic and political equations in the area. It’s thus clearly a tightrope walk and hence maybe it’s too early to celebrate.

Nonetheless, a new beginning has been made and it’s hoped that good sense will prevail on all stakeholders to usher in permanent peace.

Both Union home minister Amit Shah and Assam’s finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma claimed that the accord was the best thing to have happened – while it addresses the key concerns/demands of the Bodos, it also ensures a peaceful resolution of the three-decade-old Bodo imbroglio without compromising on Assam’s territorial integrity.

(The writer is an independent journalist based in Guwahati)

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