7 PM | Still no finality, the third time round| 28th February, 2020

Context: Third Bodo Accord.

More in news:

  • 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.

Bodo Tribe:

  • Bodos are the single largest community among the notified Scheduled Tribes in Assam.
  • Part of the larger umbrella of Bodo-Kachari, the Bodos constitute about 5-6% of Assam’s population.
  • The Bodos, according to some versions, were the original inhabitants of the Brahmaputra Valley. They were present there much before the Ahoms, the present Assamese, who are believed to be the descendants of the “Tai” people from Burma and moved to the Valley back in 1228 AD.
  • In ancient Sanskrit literature, Bodos were called “Kacharis” or “Kiratas”. Pushya Varman was a Bodo king who founded the Kamarupa kingdom in the 5th Century CE.
  • The first clash between “Bodos” and “Ahoms” was in 1490 AD which was won by the former. But they were defeated in 1536. By 1747, Bodos were pushed to a small area in Southern Nowgong.
  • The British rule brought them more problems. Sandwiched between the British planters, Ahom merchants and Bengali (mainly Muslims) settlers, the Bodos moved to the North where they faced Nepali migrants. Foundations of Bodo-Ahom enmity on one hand and with Muslims on the other were laid because of these developments.
  • Bodos are politically active and dominant in the Kokrajhar, Baksa, Udalguri and Chirang districts of the Bodoland Autonomous region in the state of Assam.
  • The Bodo people speak the Bodo language, a Tibeto-Burman language recognized as one of twenty-two scheduled languages in the Indian Constitution. 
  • The Bodo people are recognized as a plains tribe in the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.

The Bodoland Dispute:

  • In 1966-67, the demand for a separate state called Bodoland was raised under the banner of the Plains Tribals Council of Assam (PTCA), a political outfit.
  • In 1987, the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) renewed the demand. “Divide Assam fifty-fifty”, was a call given by the ABSU’s then leader, Upendra Nath Brahma.
  • The armed group Bodo Security Force arose, under the leadership of Ranjan Daimary, in October 1986. It subsequently renamed itself National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), and later split into factions.

Background- Previous Accords:

  • First Accord: The first Bodo accord was signed with the All Bodo Students Union in 1993, leading to creation of a Bodoland Autonomous Council with limited political powers.
  • Second Accord: In 2003, the second Bodo 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).
    • A BTC (Bodoland Territorial Council) created under 6th Schedule of the Constitution has been given legislative powers over 40 subjects.
    • BTAD (Bodoland Territorial Area District) created in 2003.

Bodo Accord:

  • The Bodo Accord provides political and economic benefits to the tribal areas without seeking a separate Bodoland state or union territory. 
  • A tripartite accord was signed on January 27, 2020 by representatives of Bodo organisations with the Central and Assam governments, presents a new model of power sharing and governance in Assam under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.
  • The Bodo parties to the agreement include the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU), the United Bodo People’s Organisation (UBPO) and all the four factions of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). 

Key takeaways from the Accord:

  • Territory: The area under the jurisdiction of BTC, formed under the 2003 Accord, was called the Bodo Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD). The BTAD was renamed Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR).
    • BTAD comprises Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri districts, accounting for 11% of Assam’s area and 10% of its population. 
    • The new Accord provides for “alteration of area of BTAD” and “provisions for Bodos outside BTAD”. 
  • A committee will be formed to decide the exclusion and inclusion of new areas.
  • 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.
  • Bodo-Kachari Welfare Council: The government will set up a Bodo-Kachari Welfare Council for focused development of Bodo villages outside BTAD — which opens up a way to potentially address the needs of Bodos outside BTAD.
  • Structural Changes: The accord provides for more legislative, executive, administrative and financial powers to BTC; and amendments to the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution to “improve the financial resources and administrative powers of BTC”.
    • Subsequently, the total number of Assembly seats will go up to 60, from the existing 40.
  • The 2020 agreement says the Government of Assam “will notify Bodo language in Devanagri script as the associate official language in the state”.
  • The families of those killed during the Bodo movement would get Rs. 5 lakh each.
  • Funding: A Special Development Package of Rs. 1500 Crore would be given by the Centre to undertake specific projects for the development of Bodo areas.

Significance of the Accord:

  • The objective of the agreement is to increase the scope and powers of the BTC and to streamline its functioning; resolve issues related to Bodo people residing outside Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD); promote and protect Bodo’s social, cultural, linguistic and ethnic identities; providing legislative protection for the land rights of tribals; ensure quick development of tribal areas and rehabilitate members of NDFB factions.
  • It is expected to usher in a new dawn of peace, harmony and togetherness and that those associated with armed resistance groups would now enter the mainstream and contribute to the nation’s progress.
  • The accord will successfully bring together leading stakeholders under one framework ending the 50-year-old Bodo crisis.
  • People previously associated with armed resistance groups like NDFB(P), NDFB(RD) and NDFB(S) will enter the mainstream and contribute to the nation’s progress.
  • It will further protect and popularise the unique culture of the Bodo people and will give them access to a wide range of development-oriented initiatives.
  • 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. 

Issues with the Accord:

  • The Bodos have portrayed themselves as the most rightful representatives of the BTAD. The BTC (Bodoland Territorial Council) is predominantly Bodo, as per the provisions of the Bodo Accord of 2003, but the BTAD areas do not have a homogenous demographic profile. Several Bodo groups have been demanding a separate land for the ethnic community since 1972, a movement that has claimed nearly 4,000 lives.
  • 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).
  • According to North-east experts, the creation of BAC or BTC in 2014 did not solve their problem. This is because of the innate contradiction that the newly created Bodo lands have physical majority, estimated as 73%, of non-Bodos such as Muslims, Assamese, Bengali Hindus and tribal groups such as the Adivasis and Koch-Rajbongshis. However, under the Bodo accord, the levels of political power, including representation in the local council or assembly, access to funds and the force of weapons are with the Bodos.
  • To solve this, a very tricky provision was introduced in the 2020 accord on the appointment of a commission to include the Bodo majority areas in the BTR and to exclude non-tribal majority areas from it.
  • From past experience, carving out boundaries in this volatile region and displacement of residents have only resulted in violence with new terrorist groups emerging out of the 220 ethnic groups.

Way Forward:

On the whole, the new Bodo Accord has many firsts and it can well be taken as a peace template as and when the government pushes its peace efforts in states like Manipur, for instance, where, too, there is a strong civil society presence which could well assist efforts at ending militancy.

Source: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/still-no-finality-the-third-time-round/article30925387.ece

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