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Accord or Discord: Bodo Peace Process Derailed?

Leaders from various Bodo organisations including NDFB-S President B Saoraigwra on January 27 outside North Block. (Special Arrangement)

“The Bodo Peace Accord/Process has now become a waste paper. Should be thrown in the dustbin.”

With a “final” aim to settle the dust in three-decade-long armed conflicts in the Bodo-dominated areas of Assam, the Centre and the Assam government on January 27 signed a tripartite peace accord with the rebel group National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).

The Accord included several political and economic measures designed to strengthen the autonomy of the districts under the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), now renamed as Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR), as well as mechanisms to rehabilitate the members NDFB into everyday life.

But after almost seven months, the Accord is lying unattended by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led state government.

The above observation on the credibility of the peace accord was expressed by Prithivi Narayan Dev Mech. “The accord has so much potential but with non-implementation, it has become a useless bunch of paper,” he said.

Mech, a 22-year-old coronated prince was one of the two peace mediators who brought the rebel group National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) on the negotiation table with New Delhi.

He raised a series of question on the implementation of “historic” third Bodo peace Accord, signed on January 27.

The tripartite Peace Accord was signed by four factions of the rebel group NDFB, All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU), a civil organisation United Bodo People’s Organization, Assam government and the Centre.

10 days before the signing of the Accord, a dreaded faction of NDFB led by B Saoraiwgra (formerly NDFB-Songbijit) signed a tripartite Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement with Dispur and New Delhi and called for a ceasefire.

NDFB-S which was camping under the shadow of Khaplang faction of the Nationalist Social Council of Nagalim (NSCN) in Myanmar and Bhutan came over the ground after the centre assured them rehabilitation and series of other assurances in the peace treaty and SoO.

“North East Heritage Foundation filed a PIL case at Gauhati High Court against the Government for failure and delay in implementing the BTR Accord, 2020,” echoed Mech.

With the Covid-19 pandemic hitting the state to the bottom, the implementation of the Accord has affected severely however, the immediate plan-of-action of the Accord was due to be undertaken months back.

This has raised an eyebrow amongst the people living across Bodo dominated areas of Assam on the intention of the BJP regarding the implementation of the Accord.

The Accord in clause 3.1 (i) promises that the number of districts in the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD) would be increased to nine from the existing four.

The clause also mentions the inclusion of Bodo dominated villages of Biswanath, Sonitpur and Lakhimpur in the BTR.  To streamline the process, a commission headed by a retired high court judge was supposed to be appointed but it’s been more than seven months, there is no sign of it yet.

“As per the Accord, a commission will be formed under Paragraph 14 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution which would examine and recommend the inclusion of villages to Bodoland Territorial Area Districts and having majority tribal population. However, to date, no commission has yet to been appointed,” said Mech, in a loud voice.

A well-placed source in the state home and political department on a condition of anonymity, said, “The process is not delayed due to corona but multiple factors such as the uncertain BTC polls and the cold tussle between a various political organisation in the Bodoland region has pulled the issue to cold papers.”

The source, however, added that the assessment on the implementation of the Accord is ongoing but he is not sure on which level it has reached.

“There are series of talks ongoing between various government officials including the Intelligence agencies. It seems the implementation would get on the roads soon after the BTC polls dates are announced or after the BTC polls,” he added.

As per the Accord, criminal cases registered against members of NDFB factions for non-heinous crimes shall be withdrawn by the government. However, the heinous crimes shall be reviewed “case by case” according to the existing policy on the subject.

“As mentioned in the Accord, the Central and State governments will take necessary measures to rehabilitate the NDFB cades. However, nothing has been done on that front too. Such negligence will not be tolerated,” said Mech, also an executive director of The North East Heritage Foundation, who has now moved to the Gauhati High Court with a PIL.

Mech with an IIT Madras graduate Thulunga Basumatary fired a salvo on the government and vouched for the implementation of the Accord immediately for the development of the region.

An official at the Assam police who didn’t wish to be named said that the department is streamlining the rehabilitation process. “We are in talks with various central and state agencies. The matter is taken at the highest level,” he said.

“It’s been more than two months after the committee to assess the rehabilitation was appointed but nothing has been seen at the ground level,” said a member from the pro-talk faction of the NDFB, who wished for anonymity.

The long pause on the initial process of implementing the Accord has brought the issue of incompetency of the Sarbananda Sonowal’s home and political department.

Alex Waterman, an expert on the insurgency in the Northeast said, “peace talks have over the years been characterised by slow progress, giving rise to the view that New Delhi is tiring out insurgent movements and in doing so diluting their mobilizational and political clout.”

With cold political tussles amid the “non-implementation” of the Bodo peace Accord, the aspiration of people regarding a peace settlement has come at the fore as a question mark.

For how long the people living across the BTAD region and adjoining district would be given a “false” assurance? And if the Accord is not implemented immediately, will the region again witness violence on the demands of a separate state?

“Divide Assam 50-50 for Bodoland state is now going to be on the way again if the BTR accord clauses are disrespected by the Government,” said Mech.

 

What do you think?

Written by Nilutpal Timsina

Nilutpal Timsina is working as a Journalist for Headline8. He is a journalism graduate from Bangalore University. His areas of interest include civic issue, politics, and public policy spheres and other functionality of the government. Besides writing news, Nilutpal also coordinates with the video production team with story researches. He can be reached at: niluttimsina@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @nilutpaltimsina

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