The BJP had promised a resolution to the Bodoland issue as part of its manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
New Delhi: An indefinite hunger strike has been called by three powerful Bodo organisations in Kokrajhar town of Assam since March 10, demanding that the Centre immediately initiate “a political dialogue with all the stakeholders” to carve out a separate state of Bodoland. On March 14, the hunger strike crossed over 100 hours.
The demand, set by the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU), National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Progressive) and People’s Joint Action Committee for Bodoland Movement (PJACBM), is based on a promise made by Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in a rally in Kokrajhar during the run-up to the last parliamentary elections. Resolving the Bodo issue, along with that of Gorkhaland, were also a part of the BJP’s additional manifesto for the 2014 elections.
Since the Centre didn’t fulfil its poll promise, these organisations refused to support the BJP in the 2016 assembly elections.
However, the Modi government initiated talks with the organisations demanding Bodoland in June 2015 and then again on January 9, 2017 in Guwahati. Both these talks were led by the Ministry of Home joint secretary for the Northeast. The agitators on hunger strike now demand that the talks be held “at a political level from now on, and not at a bureaucratic level, so that the 2014 promise can be met.”
On the first day of the hunger strike on March 10, as many as 1,100 volunteers belonging to the three organisations took part in the strike.
Kwrwmdao Wary, ABSU assistant general secretary told The Wire from Kokrajhar, “Because of the heavy rains, we had to shift our venue which is relatively small. So 513 volunteers have been on hunger strike since March 11.”
Among them are ABSU president Pramod Boro, NDFB(P) president Dhiren Boro and PJACBM president Rakesh Boro.
As per a press note released by ABSU in Kokrajhar on March 14, “While the health of hundreds of activists deteriorated, on repeated appeal by the district administration, many of them have been shifted to RNB Civil Hospital, Kokrajhar today.”
“Having talks only at the bureaucratic level is a delaying tactic. Over 40 rounds of such talks have taken place with the underground groups under ceasefire and the democratic movement groups like us. We demand that in the next meeting, all the stakeholders be called and the union home minister Rajnath Singh be present so that the demand for Bodoland can be met,” Wary told this correspondent.
He said, “While there is no response from the Centre so far, the state government, through a letter signed by the home secretary, requested those on hunger strike on March 13 to call it off. The letter said we will expedite the talks but we have rejected it since it doesn’t give any time frame or any assurance of the state of Bodoland.” He said, “The hunger strike will continue till we get a response from the Centre.”
The Bodo People’s Front (BPF), which administers the four districts of the state that come under the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) – Baksa, Kokrajhar, Chirang and Udlaguri – is an ally of the Sarbananda Sonowal-led BJP government in the state. Wary said, “No response has so far come from the BPF.”
The indefinite hunger strike is part of a series of protests that these organisations have formulated to press for Bodoland. This past December, they staged a day-long hunger strike in New Delhi.
“On December 12, we held a dharna at Jantar Mantar; a rally was brought out the next day from Jantar Mantar to Rajghat followed by a day-long hunger strike on December 14,” Wary said. As part of the protest, the groups have been blocking railway lines and highways in the BTC districts.
On March 13, a torch rally was brought out in different parts of the state followed by a rally through Kokrajhar, headquarters of the BTC, on March 14.
“The meeting and the rally on the March 14 morning saw over 15,000 people. Amongst them were many prominent Bodo leaders including Bodo Sahitya Sabha former president Kameswar Brahma and the present president Toren Boro, founder chairman of NDFB Ranjan Daimary, former Rajya Sabha MP and writer U.G. Brahma besides several members of the BTC,” Wary said.
Addressing the gathering, Ranjan Daimary said, “Some powerful minister in the present ruling dispensation shed tears when an animal dies, but they don’t have time when their own people are almost dying due to hunger strike. I hope the government is not underestimating the might of the indigenous communities. If they are doing so, they will have to face the consequences. Thus, I am appealing to the government to take appropriate steps for an amicable solution to the long-pending Bodo political issue.” Daimary was referring to comments on saving the rhino by Pramila Brahma of the BPF, serving in the state BJP government as forest minister.
Earlier called the Bodo Security Force, NDFB gave itself the present name – National Democratic Front of Bodoland – in 1994 after it rejected the Bodo Accord signed by the Centre with ABSU-BPAC (Bodo Peoples Action Committee) in 1993. A decade later, in 2003, another separatist group, the Bodo Liberation Tigers signed a new accord with the Centre as per which the four districts began to be administered by the BTC.
In May 2005, the NDFB spilt into two. One part of it, led by Gobinda Basumatary, called itself NDFB (Progressive) and declared ceasefire with the Centre for peace talks after it received a huge setback following an offensive led against its camps by the Bhutan government.
In 2012, the other faction, led by Daimary, further split into two. While the NDFB (Songbijit) faction has refused to come to the table for talks, NDFB (Ranjan) did, after he was released from jail on bail in June 2013. The Daimary faction of NDFB was accused of masterminding the serial blasts in the non-Bodo areas of the state in 2008.