The Rediff Special/Urkhao Gwra Brahma
PERHAPS there will shortly be a significant change in the course of the Bodoland movement: talks are on after insurgent organisations halted their struggle in response to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government's commitment to grant constitutional safeguards to the Bodo people.
At present the Centre is talking with the Bodo Liberation Tigers, a most moderate and liberal underground group, to settle the Bodoland and related issues -- most moderate and liberal in the sense that unlike the United Liberation Front of Asom or the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, the BLT has set no precondition for the dialogue.
Besides, the BLT was the only insurgent outfit that stood by the nation during the Kargil war. Perhaps it was because of this that the Government of India under Home Minister L K Advani initiated a dialogue with it in May 2000.
The Bodo problem is multidimensional. Initially it was a cry for identity, which was endangered by the myopic outlook of the then chauvinistic groups ruling Assam. Then the question of ascertaining political rights and constitutional safeguards came up.
Also, there arose protests against the exploitation and deprivation of the common man by the ruling clique and the upper class. After that, the need for protection and preservation of language, literature, culture and tradition of the Bodos emerged. It became the most emotional issue for the community in the early 60s.
But today all these have been encompassed under a single agenda -- namely, the right of self-determination for the Bodos.
Self-determination has many interpretations. Sometimes it means complete freedom, an independent nation. And sometimes it is limited to political autonomy.
The creation of a separate state of Bodoland is the common goal of all Bodo organisations today. The All-Bodo Students Union inherited this from Bodo political parties and tribals. In 1980, it took up the issue under Upendra Nath Brahma, now regarded as the father of the Bodos.
From that year, a vigorous mass movement started. Brahma was its main architect. He brought people for a mass upsurge under the ABSU banner.
The movement came to an end in 1993 with the signing of the Bodo Accord. The treaty led to the creation of the Bodoland Autonomous Council and the surrender of the largest-ever cache of arms and ammunition by members of extremist outfits that had originated during the six years of Bodoland movement.
Today, the Bodoland movement has been revived. The reason is not far to seek: The failure of the Bodo Accord.
All major democratic Bodo organisations have extended support to the stand taken by the BLT in the ongoing dialogue. Besides such organisations, all responsible intellectuals of Assam have welcomed the development, and expressed their support in granting autonomy to the Bodo people.
The settlement of the Bodo problem depends upon two powerful leaders -- Advani and Assam Chief Minister Torun Gogoi. These two will decide the fate of the negotiations.
The Centre's key negotiator is Dr P D Shenoy, special secretary, home ministry. He has successfully infused the concept of the Bodoland Territorial Council among the masses after a series of discussions.
There have been 22 rounds of talks between Dr Shenoy, the BLT, and the Assam government. But no concrete formula has come out as yet.
The Centre has given its word to amend the Constitution and widen the scope of the existing sixth schedule to facilitate autonomy for Bodos. The inclusion of the Bodo language into the eight schedule of the Indian Constitution, inclusion of Boro Kocharis of Karbi-Anglong in the Scheduled Tribe (Hills) list, establishment of a central university, an engineering college, a medical college and an agricultural college in the proposed state, special financial grant for its rapid development, and strong financial powers to Bodoland are the basic features of the autonomy concept.
Very recently the Centre invited some non-Bodo organisations to discuss the Bodoland issue. It created doubts among Bodo masses about the government's sincerity in solving the problem. What compulsion is there to discuss the problem with non-Bodo and reactionary forces? Are organisations like Ona Boro Ganathantric Adhikar Surakhsa Samitee really concerned with the Bodo cause? Had the Centre consulted other indigenous group when it signed the Assam and Gorkhaland Accords?
The fate of the Bodos must be decided with the Bodos first. Only then should come the question of adjusting other interests.
Meanwhile, most commendably, non-Bodos residing in the proposed Bodoland area have extended their support towards the concept of autonomy. They have welcomed the ongoing discussions. It is only the outside reactionary forces that are trying to create hurdles in the peace process.
Now the time has come for Advani and Gogoi to play a direct role. If the talks fail, insurgents will campaign against the Centre, questioning its sincerity. Advani should avoid that at all costs. He should speak straight and sincere.
Urkhao Gwra Brahma is the adviser to the All-Bodo Students Union.
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