With an aim to bring permanent peace in Bodo-dominated areas in Assam, the government on Monday signed an accord with the dreaded insurgent group National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) and two other outfits, providing political and economic benefits without acceding to the demand for a separate state or Union Territory.
The All Bodo Students' Union (ABSU), which has been spearheading a movement for a Bodoland state since 1972, and the United Bodo People's Organisation (UBPO) were also signatories to the Comprehensive Bodo Settlement Agreement.
In the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the tripartite agreement was signed by top leaders of the four NDFB factions, the ABSU and the UBPO; Joint Secretary in the Home Ministry Satyendra Garg; and Assam Chief Secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal also signed the pact as one of the witnesses.
Soon after the agreement was signed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said it would usher in a new dawn of peace, harmony and togetherness.
"Today is a very special day for India. The Accord with Bodo groups, which has been inked today will lead to transformative results for the Bodo people.
'Bodo Accord inked today stands out for many reasons. It successfully brings together the leading stakeholders under one framework. Those who were previously associated with armed resistance groups will now be entering the mainstream and contributing to our nation's progress,' Modi said in a series of tweets.
The home minister described the agreement as "historic" and said it would bring permanent solution to the decades-old problems of the Bodo people.
"This agreement will facilitate all round development of the Bodo areas, their language and culture will be protected without compromising the territorial integrity of Assam," he told reporters after the accord was signed.
The home minister said due to the violence perpetrated by the Bodo militants, over 4,000 people lost their lives in the past few decades.
The NDFB was responsible for a series of violent acts in the past few decades, including the massacre of nearly 70 Adivasis in December 2014.
Shah said no stone would be left unturned for the development of Assam and the Northeastern region.
"A final and comprehensive solution to their demands has been made, while retaining the territorial integrity of Assam. After the agreement, NDFB factions will leave the path of violence, surrender their weapons and disband their armed organisations within a month of signing the deal," he said.
The Assam chief minister said that after the accord different communities in the state will be able to live with harmony and it with lay the foundation of a bright future, fulfilling aspirations of the people.
"A historic day for peace and progress of Assam. The signing of the tripartite agreement under guidance and leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah resolves a decades long conflict and permanently reaffirms the territorial integrity of Assam," he said.
Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said the pact will bring comprehensive solution to the Bodo issue. "It is a historic accord," he said.
Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said as per the accord, 1,550 militants belonging to the NDFB lay down their arms on January 30, an economic programme of Rs 1,500 crore will be implemented in the next three years with equal contribution of Rs 750 crore each from the central and state governments.
Around 1,550 cadres of NDFB(P), NDFB(RD) and NDFB(S) will be rehabilitated by the central and state governments.
Sarma said the existing structure of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) will be strengthened with more powers and its seats will be expanded from 40 to 60, he said.
A commission will be set up for inclusion of Bodo-dominated villages in the BTC and exclusion of those where Bodos are not in majority.
This was the third Bodo accord to be signed in 27 years.
The first accord was signed with the All Bodo Students Union in 1993, leading to the creation of a Bodoland Autonomous Council with limited political powers.
In 2003, the second accord was signed with the militant group Bodo Liberation Tigers, leading to formation of a Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) with four districts of Assam -- Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baska and Udalguri -- called Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD).
As per Monday's accord, the name of BTAD will be changed to Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) and it will have more executive, administrative, legislative and financial powers.
The BTC currently has control over 30 subjects such as education, forests, horticulture but no jurisdiction over the police, revenue and general administration departments, which are controlled by the Assam government.
The BTC was formed under the 6th Schedule of the Constitution.
The Assam government will soon notify Bodo language as in Devanagari script as an associate official language of the state.
The state government will give Rs 5 lakh each to the next of kin of those who lost their lives during the agitation for a separate state, criminal cases with non-heinous charges against NDFB members will be withdrawn while heinous cases will be reviewed case-to-case basis as per the existing rules, according to the pact.
The demand for a separate state for the Bodos has been going on in Assam for about five decades with several Bodo overground and militant groups raising the issue.