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Changing Face of Bodo Insurgency

Dr. M. Amarjeet Singh is Assistant Professor of Conflict Resolution, School of Social Sciences, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Indian Institute of Science Campus, Banglore, India. Prior to this he was Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • January 12, 2009

    Intense internal rivalry among Bodo insurgents has proved to be the biggest hurdle to peace in Bodo-dominated areas of Assam. Internal differences within the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB), the only surviving Bodo insurgent group, have further widened, following the expulsion of its founder-president, Ranjan Daimary, alias D.R. Nabla. Prospects for yet another round of fratricidal clashes are imminent, thus posing a significant threat to the peace process.

    On December 15, 2008, the NDFB reportedly replaced its founder-president, Ranjan Daimary, with B. Sungthagra, as its new president at a meeting held in Assam’s Kokrajhar district. The meeting, attended by several top leaders including its General Secretary Govinda Basumatary, was conspicuous by the absence of Daimary. A few days later, Daimary was expelled from the group. Daimary, however, described the expulsion as “nothing but ridiculous”, and warned of renewing the war for the liberation of Bodos.

    The NDFB, earlier known as the Bodo Security Force (BdSF), was formed in 1986 with the stated objective of securing a ‘sovereign Bodoland’ in areas north of the river Brahmaputra; and is one of the deadliest insurgent groups in Assam. In May 2005, it entered into a ceasefire with the Assam and Union Governments, which has been periodically extended. But formal peace negotiations are yet to begin. The NDFB has been a major challenge to the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) - the political arrangement arrived at with the now disbanded Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) in 2003. Differences between the two Bodo insurgent groups have resulted in a continuous stream of fratricidal clashes. The NDFB termed the formation of BTC as an “exercise in futility” and a move against the interests of the Bodo community. However, the NDFB never got the popular support which its arch-rival BLT had.

    What prompted the split? Like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the NDFB too comprises of moderates as well as hardliners. The latter, though less numerous, were more vocal than the former in matters pertaining to the group. The hardliners under Daimary were also least interested in carrying forward the peace process. As a result, dissent was brewing among the moderates since their interests were overruled on a number of occasions by those associated with Daimary. Indeed, the moderates wanted Daimary’s active participation in the peace process, and accused him of lack of sincerity. However, Daimary continued to dictate from across the border in Bangladesh, leading to further discontent.

    The alleged involvement of some NDFB cadres in the October 30 serial bomb blasts in Assam aggravated this discontent further. Some of the arrested NDFB cadres confessed to the involvement of Daimary and his close associates in the serial blasts. The interrogation of the arrested cadres, Aghai Basumatary and Jayanti Brhama, led to the revelation that they were involved in the blasts and that the instructions to carry out the blasts had come from Daimary. There is also a view that the serial blasts could have been the outcome of a battle for supremacy within the NDFB.

    No doubt, the recent development has further marginalised Daimary and his associates, and revealed how disillusioned the ordinary cadres are with his leadership. However, it would be naïve to conclude that Daimary will be completely marginalized. This is so because he still commands a section of the hardliners, and has a close working relationship with Assam’s most powerful insurgent group, the ULFA, which has the support of external actors.

    At the same time, it is most likely that the moderate faction may not be able to consolidate the support of those who are close to Daimary. The moderates also do not have the much-needed external support which is crucial for the survival of any separatist group in the region.

    In such a fragile environment, the prospect for yet another round of fratricidal clashes is quite imminent, and the future of the Bodo peace process is at stake. This will lead to a further deterioration in the law and order situation in the Bodo areas of Assam. On its part, the government must adopt a cautious wait and watch approach, and be neutral in dealing with the two factions.

    However, if the B. Sungthagra-led moderate faction gains an upper hand over the hardliners, prospects for a smooth innings of the Bodo peace process is round the corner. B. Sungthagra had himself admitted that his faction is ready to “directly or indirectly” participate in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections slated for March/April 2009. This must be welcomed. If this happens, the moderate faction could be easily accommodated within the existing political arrangement, i.e. the BTC. This will pave the way for durable peace. But if the moderate faction fails to win over the hardliners, Daimary will continue to pose a threat to peace, and the Bodos will continue to face the prospect of a violent insurgency.