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Guwahati, SNM Abdi(Firstpost): Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal request to Bhutanese premier, Tshering Tobgay, on the sidelines of Vibrant Gujarat meet in Ahmedabad, for all possible help to Indian security forces trying to bring to justice National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) guerrillas hiding in Bhutan after gunning down 81 Adivasis, or tribespeople, in Assam, reveals the uncompromising nature of the crackdown underway.
New Delhi’s determination is also evident from Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s frantic telephone calls to her counterparts in Myanmar and Bangladesh to ensure their cooperation in nabbing NDFB leaders and cadres who slipped into neighbouring countries after massacring Adivasi men, women and children. The Unified Command comprising Indian Army, para-military and police has declared an all-out war – Jagat Basumatary, NDFB platoon commander who and alleged ‘brain’ behind the massacre, has been killed by security forces, 20 dreaded ultras have been captured and record number of arms and ammunition seized in the relentless ongoing operation. Everyone from hitmen to linkmen are feeling the heat.
The Modi government’s intention was evident within hours of the bloodbath with Home Minister Rajnath Singh condemning the massacre an act of terrorism and despatching Army chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag, no less, to capture the absconding killers and smash the group’s network on Indian soil as well as in the neighbourhood.
So far so good. But the clampdown also highlights the self-serving approach of Bharatiya Janata Party to organized violence and mayhem. The BJP’s double standards and doublespeak on terrorism and NDFB’s reasons for targeting Adivasis are two critical areas crying for closer scrutiny.
In a nutshell, BJP was ideologically on NDFB’s side when it killed scores of Bengali-speaking Muslims in July-August 2012 and May 2014. But the BJP flew into a rage when NDFB trained its guns on Adivasis and the BJP-led central government declared an all-out war against the very same NDFB.
NDFB is the fighting arm of Bodos who want their own ethnic homeland in Assam. Bodos comprise barely six percent of Assam’s 33 million population but are eyeing half of the state. They chose the path of terror way back in 1987 with the slogan “Divide Assam 50-50”, leaving behind a trail of murder and destruction. The first tripartite peace treaty between the central government, state government and Bodos was signed in 1993 but it collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions. Another accord signed in 2003 resulted in the Bodo Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD) giving them substantial autonomy.
BTAD, covering around 8795 sq km area, was given to Bodos on a platter, although they comprised only 20 percent of the population in BTAD. The remaining population is mainly Muslims – many of whom are migrants from Bangladesh – and Adivasis. Bodos floated a political party called Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) to administer BTAD but the extremist-supremacist NDFB called the shots in a bizarre scenario where 20 percent rule over 80 percent in BTAD. As Bodos didn’t enjoy numerical majority, they resorted to ethnic cleansing. And whether their targets were Muslims or Adivasis, Bodos invariably inflicted more casualties than they suffered primarily because they didn’t surrender around 350-400 AK-47s they were supposed to after the 2003 accord.
BJP’s hypocrisy is evident from the fact that it didn’t shed tears when NDFB shot dead 50 Bengali-speaking Muslims in May last year. But the BJP’s own poll campaign then underway accused Bangladeshi Muslims of “destroying” India. So the killings gelled with the BJP’s political rhetoric; within days of the May butchery, Modi thundered that Bangladeshis must keep their “bags packed” for deportation if he captured power – BJP and NDFB were on the same page.
Similarly, when NDFB slaughtered nearly a 100 Muslims and displaced half a million in July-August 2012, senior BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani immediately extended moral support to the Bodos. He publicly argued that the blood-bath was the result of a silent Bangladeshi demographic invasion straining resources and creating insecurity among Bodos. The party also organized a seminar in New Delhi on “Bodo Hindus – Refugees in their own land: Bangladeshi Muslim infiltrators – the new kingmakers in an Indian state” with then BJP president, Nitin Gadkari, as a key speaker.
But the Adivasis are a different kettle of fish and NDFB will regret for a long time training its guns on them. The BJP government immediately let loose the army on NDFB to repay a debt of gratitude and regain Adivasi goodwill, crucial for wresting Assam from the Congress Party in the 2016 state assembly elections.
Adivasis, who account for almost 20 percent of Assam’s voters, are a force to reckon with in electoral politics. They ditched the Congress in last year’s parliamentary elections and whole-heartedly supported the BJP, giving the party seven seats compared to four in 2009. BJP’s Adivasi candidates, Rameshwar Teli and Kamakhya Prasad Tasa, trounced Congress MPs in Dibrugarh and Jorhat. The BJP’s vote-share rose to 36.6 percent from 16.21 percent thanks to Adivasis – which also explains the BJP’s muscular response to the December massacre.
From the Bodo point of view, Adivasis pose a bigger threat than Muslims because BTAD was created under amended provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution which confers political rights like reservation of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), which administers BTAD, for Scheduled Tribes (ST). While Bodos are officially ST, Adivasis are fighting for ST status. And if that’s granted, Adivasis will spoil the Bodo party.
Unlike Muslims in BTAD, Adivasis are fighting tooth and nail for ST status to empower themselves just like Bodos. Five armed Adivasi outfits spearheading the community’s ST campaign, signed an agreement with Assam government in January 2012 to give up the path of violence and negotiate peacefully for ST status.
Bodos stand to lose all advantages they enjoy as ST in BTAD if Adivasis too are designated ST. Bodos have dominated the BTC and ruled over BTAD by virtue of being ST. Out of 40 BTC seats, as many as 34 are reserved for ST while there five non-ST seats and one seat is unreserved. If Adivasis are somehow granted ST status before BTC elections due in April 2015, it will definitely sound the death knell of Bodo hegemonic dominance in BTC. Moreover, granting of ST status will bring Adivasis at par with Bodos under the ST and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act which governs rights and entitlements in forest areas.
Clearly, the prospects of losing their USP – ST status – to Adivasis drove NDFB to mount a pre-emptive attack on the competition to browbeat it into submission. But NDFB did not calculate the cost of the carnage with a cool head. NDFB should have realized the grim consequences of attacking Adivasis who are a stepping stone in the BJP’s inexorable march to power in Assam.
Editor’s Note: SNM Abdi isa senior journalist who was a former Deputy Editor of Outlook. Views are his own and no reflection of publication house.
Input source: Firspost