Assam, it seems, has found itself entrapped in a vicious cycle of violence, its poor consequences and which again leading to further violence. The state government, led by Tarun Gogoi who is enjoying his third stint as the Chief Minister, has clearly failed to arrest the continuing trends of violence and found itself engaged in shameless blame game over the matter.
A desperate Gogoi now has declared that his government would not tolerate any sort of strike and blockades in the state after the recent bandhs provided serious blow to the state's economy and overall image. Assam has witnessed 23 strikes this year, besides 48 strikes in the districts, 65 road blockades and 13 rail rokos, informed a report published in Anandabazar Patrika on Friday.
Gogoi said if this went on unchecked, very soon Assam's economy would be left in a shambles. He, however, expressed hope that the people of Assam will return to work in southern India in early September. He thanked the Karnataka government and also praised his own government for having 'ensured' the livelihood of average Assamese.
Gogoi's condemning strikes is a welcome move but praising his own government to ensure a 'safe exit' to Assam's own people to their workplaces reveals his helplessness. Slamming various forces saying they were fuelling communal tension in the state does not mean that the CM himself has carried out his duty perfectly.
Too many voices clashing, but what about the Assam govt?
Why the Assam government takes a huge relief when its very own people leave the state to earn a livelihood in other parts of the country? What is its priority? Doesn't it want a comprehensive development of the state and its people by providing stability and instead looks to engage in manipulative politics aimed at electoral gains? Gogoi has been serving as the CM of Assam for 11 years but still hasn't succeeded in improving the socio-political ground realities in a state which is historically a volatile one. A sudden flare-up following a bandh called by the ABMSU (All Bodoland Minority Students' Union) in May this year against the alleged removal of a signboard from a land allotted for a mosque led to violence killing people in July.
The ABSU (All Bodoland Students' Union) accused the ABMSU of inciting communal tension while the ABMSU had initially alleged that ex-BLT (Bodoland Liberation Tigers) members had removed the signboard (the ABSU and BLT had formed the Bodo People's Progressive Front in 2005). Violence led to more violence and finally several people found themselves in relief camps and facing an uncertain future. The AAMSU (All Assam Minority Students' Union) said minority Muslims in the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) area (called the Bodo Territorial Autonomous District) were being victimised for the last couple of months.
The ABSU and BTC countered by saying infiltrators from neighbouring Bangladesh were responsible for all problems. The BJP also blamed 'illegal immigrants from Bangladesh'. The AGP (Asom Gana Parishad) and AIDUF (All India United Democratic Front), too, termed it as a communal tension. Some reputed media personality also said it was a communal crisis and even drew parallels between the violence in Assam with that in Gujarat in 2002.
Govt turning blind to such crucial problem
Why is there no effort by the Assamese authorities to address the sensitive ethnic problem of the Bodos? The Bodos, who have remained a marginalised section, have two main reasons to feel unhappy. First, the tendency to absorb the Bodos within the mainstream Assamese nationalism in terms of the state and market mechanism and secondly, the birth of Bangladesh on artificial geographic lines in the region gave rise to more threats to the Bodos in terms of 'foreign immigration'.
The problems of land ownership and economic backwardness of the Bodos have mainly pushed them further into a position of disadvantage but no constructive work has been undertaken by the authorities. The Assam Accord of 1985 following six-years of agitation left the Bodo leadership dissatisfied and the ABSU demanded a separate Bodoland state instead of a pan-tribal unity as aimed earlier. The subsequent violence led to the Bodo accord and formation of the Bodo Autonomous Council (BAC) in 1993.
But the territorial limits of the BAC were never a settled issue and the ambiguity of the concept of territoriality based on majoritarian demography only led to more violence between the Bodos and non-Bodos. The term non-Bodos are more convenient to describe the violence instead of an oversimplified Hindu-Muslim conflict. Because of this ambiguity, violence in these areas went on multiplying and even an outfit called the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) was formed which demanded a sovereign state for the Bodos.
In 2003, the BAC was upgraded into the present BTC comprising the BTAD (with four districts, namely Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baska and Udalguri) but the majority-minority dichotomy was never settled. The mid and late-1990s saw a series of violence breaking out between the Bodos and Bengali Muslims, Bengali Hindus and Santhals.
The non-Bodos also organised themselves in the form of Adivasi Cobra Militants and the Bengal Liberation Tigers to retaliate against the Bodos. The Sanmilita Janagosthiya Sangram Samiti comprising 18 non-Bodo groups was also formed to oppose the BTC. The Bodo dream of a homogenous space for themselves also find an obstacle in the Koch-Rajbanshis.
Two crucial tasks the govt didn't undertake
The Bodos do not have the demographic majority required to attain their goal and nor is there adequate economic development for their socio-economic elevation. The political leadership had to carry out these two crucial duties to curb the ambiance of hatred.
One, it should have effected a mechanism of negotiation between the Bods and non-Bodos instead of treating it as a vote-sensitive issue and secondly, and more importantly, uplift the crumbling economy. Assam and northeast are blessed with natural resources and a localised and inclusive growth could have nurtured here in all these years. If the rest of the country can reap the benefits of economic liberalisation, then why could not the people of Assam or northeast?
Tarun Gogoi can say all good things today before the media, but will he be able to take an objective step by balancing between the Bodoland People's Front and the AIDUF so that the greater interest of the state is served? Shrinking economy, tussle over resources like land, identity politics and question of empowerment have never been addressed by any political party. Strikes, exodus are normal consequences of the deeper problems but it seems our ill-equipped leaders are more than happy in engaging themselves with cosmetic surgery.
(With inputs from EPW)