Mains Article

Bodo Peace Accord [Mains Article]

The Tripartite Bodo Agreement was signed between the Centre, Assam Government and the banned Assam-based insurgent group National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) on 27th January 2020. The Agreement is aimed at bringing political and economic benefits to the Bodo tribe, which is one of the largest tribes of Assam.
By IT's Mains Articles Team
March 02, 2020

Contents

  • Introduction
  • Who are Bodos?
  • Bodo peace accord
  • Key features of the agreement
  • Significance of the agreement
  • History of the Bodo Movement
  • What is BTC?
  • The demand of separate Bodoland
  • Downhills with the Accord
  • Why are the hill tribes up in arms?
  • Fault lines in the model
  • Probability of a ripple effect
  • Conclusion

Bodo Peace Accord

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Introduction:

Bodo peace accord was signed on 27 January 2020 between the Ministry of Home Affairs, Assam government and Bodo groups including the All Bodo Students’ Union and militant outfits.

It was India’s third attempt at conflict resolution after the 1993 and 2003 accords.

Who are Bodos?

  • Bodos are the single largest tribal community in Assam. They have controlled large parts of Assam in the past.
  • The constitute the Bodo Territorial Area District (BTAD) and constitute four districts in Assam — Kokrajhar, Baksa, Udalguri and Chirang.

Bodo Peace Accord:

  • The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the Assam government and the Bodo groups have signed an agreement to redraw and rename the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) in Assam.
  • The new Accord signed by the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU), United Bodo People’s Organisation and all the four factions of the insurgent outfit- National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) with Delhi and Dispur promises more legislative, executive and administrative autonomy under the Sixth Schedule to Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) and expansion of the BTC territory in lieu of statehood.
  • The Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD), the autonomous region governed by BTC, will be known as Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) after demarcation of the augmented territory.
  • As of now the agreement has not addressed the issue of “citizenship or work permit” for non-domiciles in the BTAD, to be renamed as the Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR).

Key features of the agreement:

  • As per the agreement, villages dominated by Bodos that were presently outside the BTAD would be included and those with non-Bodo population would be excluded.
  • The memorandum of settlement says that the criminal cases registered against members of the NDFB factions for “non-heinous” crimes shall be withdrawn by the Assam government and in cases of heinous crimes it will be reviewed.
  • The families of those killed during the Bodo movement would get Rs. 5 lakhs each.
  • A Special Development Package of Rs. 1500 Crores would be given by the Centre to undertake specific projects for the development of Bodo areas.
  • A committee will decide the exclusion and inclusion of new areas in the BTAD. Subsequent to this alteration, the total number of Assembly seats will go up to 60, from the existing 40.

Significance of the agreement:

  • The signing of the agreement is expected to end the 50-year-old Bodo crisis.
  • Around 1500 cadres of NDFB(P), NDFB(RD) and NDFB(S) will be rehabilitated by Centre and Assam Government. They will be assimilated in the mainstream now.
  • After the agreement, the NDFB factions are speculated to leave the path of violence, surrender their weapons and disband their armed organisations within a month of signing the deal.

History of the Bodo Movement:

  • In 1966-67, the demand for a separate state called Bodoland was raised under the Plains Tribals Council of Assam (PTCA).
  • In 1986, the prominent group Bodo Security Force (BDSF) was formed. The BDSF subsequently renamed itself as the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).
  • The official movement of the Bodos started under the leadership of Upendranath Brahma of All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) in 1987.
  • While the movement was suppressed by the then government, the ABSU created a political organization called the Bodo People’s Action Committee (BPAC).
  • ABSU began the new movement with the slogan ‘Divide Assam Fifty-Fifty’, but it ended up with the creation of Bodo Accord in 1993.
  • The accord collapsed and there was a split in ABSU and other political parties. After the Bodo Accord, the Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC) was constituted, which was later replaced by the BTQ.
  • In the 1990s, Indian security forces launched operations against the NDFB, causing the NDFB to flee to bordering Bhutan. In Bhutan, it faced counter-insurgency operations by the Indian Army and the Royal Bhutan Army in the early 2000s.
  • The Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) was created in 2003 with some more financial and other powers.
  • The BTAD and other areas mentioned under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution have been exempted from the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, that enables undocumented non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who entered India on or before December 31, 2014 to apply for Indian citizenship.

What is the BTC?

  • It is an autonomous body under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
  • There have been two Bodo Accords earlier, and the second one led to the formation of BTC.
  • The ABSU-led movement from 1987 culminated in a 1993 Bodo Accord, which paved the way for a Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC), but ABSU withdrew its agreement and renewed its demand for a separate state.
  • In 2003, the second Bodo Accord was signed by the extremist group Bodo Liberation Tiger Force (BLTF), the Centre and the state. This led to the BTC.

The demand of separate Bodoland:

  • For centuries, they survived sanskritisation (influence from higher castes) without giving up their original ethnic identity.
  • However, in the 20th century, they had to tackle a series of issues such as illegal immigration, encroachment of their lands, forced assimilation, loss of language and culture.
  • The 20th century also witnessed the emergence of Bodos as a leading tribe in Assam which pioneered the movements for safeguarding the rights of the tribal communities in the area.
  • From then on, they have been consistently deprived of the political and socio-economic rights by successive state and central governments.
  • The Bodos have not only become an ethnic minority in their own ancestral land but have also been struggling for their existence and status as an ethnic community.

Downhills with the Accord:

  • The third peace accord with the Bodos threatens to intensify the socio-political contestation among groups in the State not just in the expanded area, which will be renamed as Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR), but also regions where the so-called Scheduled Hill Tribes reside in large numbers.
  • While greater contiguity of Bodo-populated areas would aid more efficient governance in the Sixth Schedule administrative unit, it has deepened insecurity among other groups such as Koch Rajbongshi, Adivasis and Muslims in the existing Bodoland Territorial Area Districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri.
  • The local Kokrajhar MP, a non-Bodo, has appealed to the government to ensure that a Bodo solution does not engender a non-Bodo problem.
  • The Bodoland Peoples Front, which has dominated the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) since inception in 2003, is also not pleased with newer claimants to power in the council elections due soon.
  • BTC chief has threatened to reject the accord and refused to use BTR as part of the new vocabulary.
  • The agreement stipulates that Bodos living in the hill areas outside the BTAD will be conferred Scheduled Tribe (Hills) status, something that has not gone down well with tribes such as the Karbis.

Why are the hill tribes up in arms?

  • In Assam, there are as many as 14 recognised plains tribe communities, 15 hill tribe communities and 16 Scheduled Caste communities.
  • The plains tribes are Barmans in Cachar, Bodos, Deoris, Hojais, Kacharis, Sonowals, Lalungs, Mechs, Misings, Rabhas, Dimasas, Singphos, Khamtis and Garos.
  • The ST (Hills) status is primarily reserved for tribes residing in the two autonomous hill districts of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao, where the Karbis and Dimasas are the most dominant in their respective areas.
  • At present, while 16 seats are reserved for STs in the 126-member Assam Assembly, two are reserved for existing tribes in the 14 Lok Sabha seats of the State.
  • Students’ bodies of the hill districts, chiefly the Karbi Students’ Association and the Dimasa Students’ Union, have risen in unison against the Centre’s assurance of granting ST (Hills) status to the Bodos living in the hill areas.
  • Militant group Karbi Longri and North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF), which signed a ceasefire with the Centre in 2009, has also opposed the move saying it would adversely impact the “identity of the Karbis”.
  • While political configurations at the State level will not be largely altered because of the measure in the five Assembly seats of the hill districts, elections to the local autonomous tribal councils in Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao, which also enjoy Sixth Schedule protections, could witness realignments.
  • The Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council, which has 26 seats, is due for elections in 2022.
  • The Dima Hasao Autonomous District Council has 30 seats.
  • The Karbis comprise over 46% of the population in the KAAC area and the Dimasas around 35% in the DHADC.

Fault lines in the model:

  • Deeper ethnic fault lines in an ethno-centric power sharing model will become exposed when the Koch-Rajbongshis and the Adivasis are granted ST status, as promised by the Modi government.
  • For, the reservation of seats of BTC is for the STs and not exclusively for the Bodos. The new accord has no clear answer to such critical questions.
  • In BTAD, the ST communities account for 33.50% of the total population; 2011 Census figures show that of the total 31,51,047 populations in the BTAD, the ST population is 10,55,732.
  • The Bodos account for over 90% of the ST population in the BTAD. The ST populations are an overwhelming majority in territories overseen by nine other autonomous councils under the Sixth Schedule in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura.
  • Such a demographic composition in the BTAD has allowed the space for political mobilisation of other non-Bodo communities and articulation of the campaign that the BTC is a faulty model as it allows the minorities to govern the majorities.
  • The organisations of these communities have been demanding exclusion of villages with less than 50% Bodo population from the BTAD.
  • Bodo organisations have a counter argument that non-Bodo is a political identity construction articulated to capture power in the BTAD by certain political forces.
  • The new accord promises to increase the current strength of BTC to 60 from 40 but without adversely affecting the existing percentage of reservation for tribal.

Probability of a ripple effect:

  • Other insurgent groups including the Karbi Longri N.C. Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF), have taken note of the Bodo pact and are likely to push for similar generous terms.
  • The pot is likely to be stirred further in Assam if the plan to accord ST status to six communities from the State — Tai Ahom, Koch Rajbongshi, Sootea, Moran, Matak and 36 different Adivasi groups clubbed together as ‘Tea Tribes’ — gets the final nod.
  • The communities are estimated to make up almost 27% of Assam’s population.
  • The impending Naga peace accord, in the works in its latest iteration since 2015, could also spur a demand for territorial and administrative rights in the Naga territories of Manipur even as the dominant Meiteis of the valley push their own agenda of inclusion in the ST category.
  • The provision of setting up regional autonomous councils under the Sixth Schedule can be explored to create the space for communities aggrieved by exclusion from the power-sharing model of BTC.

Conclusion:

While the Bodo Accord has promised legislative, executive and administrative autonomy under the Sixth Schedule to Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), but it has some loopholes which can be exploited to create unrest in the state. Peace will continue to be fragile in Assam’s Bodo heartland until an all-inclusive power sharing and governance model is evolved under the provisions of the Sixth Schedule.

[Ref: Indian Express, The Hindu]
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