Assam: BTAD: Discordant Accords

Assam: BTAD: Discordant Accords

Giriraj Bhattacharjee Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management | 15 May 2017

On May 9, 2017, a Sub-Inspector of the 15th Battalion of the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and a suspected cadre of the I.K. Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-IKS) were killed in an encounter in the forests around the Manas National Park in Chirang District. One INSAS rifle was recovered from the encounter site.

On March 30, 2017, two NDFB-IKS militants, identified as Lukash Narzary akaLangfa and David Islary, were killed by the Security Forces (SFs) in an encounter at Simlagri under Amguri Police Station in Chirang District. One INSAS Rifle with 10 rounds of live ammunition, one 7.65 mm revolver with three rounds of ammunition and one Chinese grenade were recovered from the possession of the slain militants.

On February 9, 2017, unidentified militants shot dead two civilians, Bakul Rabha (40) and Saru (35), at Chengapara village under Kolaigaon Police Station in Udalguri District. Militants also set ablaze the hut of the deceased couple. "Since we found bullets, we are certain about the involvement of militants in the incident but we are yet to pinpoint the group. Both United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I) and NDFB-IKS are active in the area and we are trying to identify the assailants," an unnamed Police official in Udalguri said.

These two districts - Chirang and Udalguri - along with two other districts - Kokrajhar and Baksa - form Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD). BTAD was formed after the signing of the Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) in February 2003 and the subsequent creation of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) in December 2003 under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. BTC administers BTAD.

An earlier Bodo Accord of 1993 had led to the formation of the Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC). The BAC arrangement ended in failure; its territory was not fully demarcated resulting in confusion and conflict, and further resentment amongst the Bodo tribesman.

Despite the MoS, the region has witnessed continuing violence. According to partial data collected by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since its formation on December 7, 2003, BTAD has registered a total of at least 452 fatalities, including 188 civilians, 21 SF personnel and 242 militants, in 285 incidents of killing (data till May 14, 2017).

Worryingly, in year 2016, BTAD witnessed at least 41 fatalities (19 civilians and 22 militants) as compared to 22 fatalities in 2015 (two civilians and 20 militants), thus witnessed an alarming increase of 86.34 per cent. Though the number of total fatalities in the region has witnessed a cyclical trend, on year on year basis, the incidents of killing have been constantly increasing since 2013. The number of killing incidents stood at 23 in 2016 as against 21 in 2015 and 14 in 2014. There were 11 such incidents in 2013 as against eight in 2012.

The region has already recorded six fatalities, including two civilians, three militants and one trooper, in three separate incidents in 2017 (data till May 14, 2017).

NDFB-IKS continues to be linked to most of the violent incidents in BTAD. Of 78 fatalities (73 civilians and five SF personnel) reported from BTAD since November 20, 2012, the date of the announcement of the formation of the outfit, NDFB-IKS has been found responsible for 69 (64 civilian and five SF personnel). Of 19 civilian fatalities reported from the region in 2016, NDFB-IKS was responsible for 16. While one surrendered NDFB cadre was killed during a group fight in a camp, two civilian fatalities remain unattributed. No SF fatality was reported in 2016.

In the meantime, the outfit itself has suffered severe losses during 'Operation All Out' launched against the outfit on December 26, 2014, after the NDFB-IKS militantsmassacred over 69 Adivasis on December 23, 2014. The operation which still continues has resulted in elimination of 48 NDFB-IKS cadres.

NDFB, the parent party, was formed on October 3, 1986, with the aim of creating a "Sovereign Bodoland' and to secure "self-determination of the Bodos". NDFB entered into a Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement with the Central and State Governments on June 1, 2005. However, following the October 30, 2008, serial blasts in Guwahati, which resulted in 81 deaths, the organization suffered a vertical split - the pro-talks faction of NDFB (NDFB-PTF) led by B. Sungthagra aka Dhiren Boro, and an Anti-talks faction led by the Ranjan Daimari aka D.R. Nabla, NDFB-Ranjan Daimari (NDFB-RD). On November 20, 2012. NDFB-RD split into two - NDFB-IKS and NDFB-RD. NDFB-RD entered into a formal SoO agreement on November 29, 2013, and this has been renewed periodically. Most recently, on January 1, 2017, the SoO agreements with NDFB-RD and NDFB-PTF were extended by another six months.

Though talks are also being held with Adivasi militant groups, including the All Adivasi National Liberation Army (AANLA), Adivasi Cobra Militants of Assam (ACMA), Adivasi People's Army (APA), National Santhal Liberation Army (NSLA), Birsa Commando Force (BCF) and Santhal Tiger Force (STF); anti-talks faction of the NSLA (NSLA-ATF) and Adivasi Defence Force (ADF) remain active in BTAD.

There is, moreover, a schism between the various groups inhabiting shared spaces in BTAD. Since its formation, the BTAD region has witnessed three ethnic clashes between Bodos and Non-Bodos. In 2008 clashes claimed 55 lives, 109 lives were lost in 2012 and 46 in 2014. During the May 1-12, 2014, violence, heavily armed NDFB-IKS militants targeted the Muslim community living across the Baksa and Kokrajhar Districts.

Worryingly, another emerging threat is the radicalization of Muslims and the presence of Islamist militants in the BTAD. 31 Islamists militants [including 19 from Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB)] have been arrested in the BTAD area since the October 2, 2014, Burdwan blasts in neighbouring West Bengal. Indeed, one of the key JMB operative, Lal Mohammed aka Ibrahim (30), suspected to be involved in the Burdwan blasts, reportedly told his interrogators that JMB's subversive activities in Assam were to 'counter Bodo aggression' against Muslims. Ibrahim was arrested on April 18, 2015, from Jharkhand's Pakur District.

That the 2003 accord has failed to bring desired results is evident from the continuing violence in the region. Worse, even NDFB-PTF is demanding a separate Bodoland State. NDFB-RD also supports the creation of a separate State. The separate statehood demand is also backed by the All Bodo Student's Union (ABSU), the initiator of the separate 'Bodoland State' with 'Divide Assam 50-50' slogan in the 1980's. Claiming that the BTAD experiment has failed, ABSU 'president' Promod Boro observed, on April 27, 2017

Creation of the Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC) after the first Bodo Accord of 1993 proved futile, leading to its scrapping and a fresh Bodo Accord in 2003... After that, the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD) experiment too has proved inadequate, convincing all Bodo groups that a separate Bodoland State is the only option left.

Promod Boro issued this statement a day after meeting Union Home Minister (UHM) Rajnath Singh along with Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and leaders of other Bodo organizations, including NDFB-PTF. In the meeting, Union Home Minister (UHM) Rajnath Singh had offered a vague assurance that, "Our Government will take all-out measures to ensure overall development of the Bodos living in Assam."

ABSU renewed its demand for a separate 'Bodoland State' on December 2, 2010, on the grounds that BTC had failed to fulfil the hopes and aspirations of the Bodos and that the Assam Government had failed to protect the identity, culture and language of the people. The creation of a separate Telangana State through the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh in Southern India on June 2, 2014, was also a factor, since an implicit moratorium of the formation of new states was broken. Indeed, in an interview, published on August 20, 2013, Promod Boro argued, "It's the same justification that was applied in Telangana, or before that in the creation of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand. The aspirations are the same, only the people are different."

BTAD has failed to address Bodo grievances, even as it has exacerbated conflict with other ethnic groupings. Such group-focused autonomous bodies give rise to further sets of grievances, both within and outside the target group. Clearly, generous developmental funding and autonomy are no panacea to ethnic insurgencies. Issues related to identities are barely static and are often competitive in the Northeast; consequently attempting to pacify individual ethnic groups through partisan accords in an ethnically diverse region is fundamentally flawed approach. Inclusive democracy, founded in the rule of law, and an urgent focus on long neglected issues of development are needed, even as groupings that choose armed violence are dealt with through effective counter-insurgency campaigns.

Assam: BTAD: Discordant Accords

Giriraj Bhattacharjee Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management
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