Pitching for peace from the once hotbed of an armed movement for Bodoland, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday urged Kashmiri militants, banned outfits in the North-East and Naxalites to lay down their arms, join the national mainstream and "celebrate life".
Addressing a massive public rally here to celebrate the January 27 tripartite accord amid a spectacle resplendent with Assam's cultural opulence, he also attacked the previous non-BJP governments for "procrastinating" resolution of vexed issues that alienated people and made them lose faith in democracy and the Constitution.
"The Bodo accord has heralded a new dawn of peace and development in Assam. With people's support, it has paved the way for permanent peace. Those still with bombs, guns and bullets in Kashmir, other parts of North-East, and Naxalites...come back...join
the mainstream. Wapas laut aiye aur jeevan ka jashn manaiye (come back and celebrate life," he said.
Modi said he was confident that the accord signed by the Centre, Assam government and Bodo groups, will bring permanent peace, unlike the previous accords inked with insurgents in 1993 and 2003.
"With the signing of the historic agreement, no demand has been left unfulfilled," he said.
Modi, who was on a visit to Assam for the first time after enactment of the new citizenship law, which plunged large parts of the state into a welter of violence, also sought to assuage the concerns of people of the region on the issue.
"Canard is being spread that lakhs of settlers will come from other countries after the enactment of CAA. Nothing of that sort will happen," he said.
The prime minister had cancelled his visits to Guwahati twice in December last year and this January--first for a summit meeting with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe and second to inaugurate the 'Khelo India' youth games at the height of anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests.
Several districts of Lower Assam witnessed bloodshed and violence over many decades as Bodo militants of different groups launched an armed struggle for a separate state, locking horns with the state government, central security agencies, and other minorities inhabiting the area.
Bodos predominantly inhabit the northwestern part of Assam in districts like Kokrajhar, Udalguri, Chirang, Baksa, Darrang, Sonitpur, Kamrup, Nalbari, Barpeta, and Dhubri.
The proponents of the Bodo movement had for decades claimed the Bodos, one of the Indo-Mongoloid tribal communities, are ethnically different from the rest of the people of Assam and entitled to a separate state.
Primarily Bengali Muslims, whose roots can be traced to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and tribal communities like Santhals and Koch-Rajbongshis bore the brunt of ethnic violence unleashed by Bodoland proponents. Hundreds of them were killed and several lakh forced to live in relief camps in the 1990s.
"Now development is our first and last priority. Trust me, I am yours. When you have decided to shun the path of bombs and guns, I will do everything to ensure that not even a thorn pricks you," he said.
"There are no losers, everybody has won. But first, this is the victory of peace, of humanism," he said of the accord and noted it will benefit both the Bodos and non-Bodos, who have often been in conflict.
The area under the Bodo Territorial Region governed by a council will be expanded, he said.
In an apparent effort to allay fears of non-Bodos, the prime minister said the Centre will work expeditiously to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord once the high-powered committee submits its report.
The clause envisaged that constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.
"I have complete faith that the Bodoland Territorial Council will create a development model based on inclusivity that will give economic progress a new dimension in consonance with 'sabka saath, sabka vikas and sabka vishwas'," he said.
Targeting the previous non-BJP governments, Modi said they avoided trying to find solutions to intractable issues and let them fester.
"Nobody wanted to touch North-East with a bargepole. They thought there's trouble, there's violence. Quell it with force. This alienated people who lost their faith in democracy and the Constitution," he said, adding for his government North-East was a priority area.
Modi said he created a roster of his ministers who would visit the region every 10-15 days, listen to the problems of people and resolve them.
Speaking about his government's attempts to tackle insurgency in the North-East, Modi said the National Liberation Front of Tripura was banned since 1997 and was using violent tactics for years. The government got in touch with the organisation through interlocutors and began talks with them in 2015.
"Last year, the government signed a pact with them. They agreed to accept the Indian Constitution and returned to mainstream," he said.
The Bru-Reang crisis was also resolved a few days ago after another historic agreement. Thousands of families will now have homes and will live in peace after a conflict that festered for about two-and-a-half decades, he said.
The prime minister said that the combined central allocation to the eight states of the region went up to a staggering Rs 3 lakh crore under the 14th Finance Commission, after his government was formed, from Rs 90,000 crore under the 13th Finance Commission.
He said that the North-East was under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, for a long time but now Tripura and many parts of other states are free from it. In three years, 3,000 km of roads and national highways have been laid, new airports are being built and the old modernised, while work is on for a dozen waterways.
Joyous celebration pervaded Jangkhrithai Field, the venue of the rally, as women attired in traditional dress, some wearing flower tiaras, danced to drum beats.
Modi walked up to them and waved to a cheering crowd, as national tricolour and the yellow flags with two black crossed swords and a shield of the All Bodo Students Union fluttered across the landscape.