The BJP, which ousted the Congress from Assam with the help of its allies to form the first saffron-led government in the Northeast a year ago, has started experiencing pressure from its smaller ally, Bodoland People’s Front (BPF). The BJP, with 60 seats, is the largest party among the allies, followed by the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) with 14 seats and BPF with 12.
Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal — while having full respect for the allies, without whose support the BJP would not have come to power in a community- and caste-ridden state — has taken a tough stand against all the unjust demands of the BPF, which is also demanding greater autonomy.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the state to celebrate one year of the coalition government in Assam and to inaugurate the country’s longest bridge over the Bramhaputra, the coalition members unitedly greeted the PM and all looked well.
Once the grand party with the Prime Minister was over, allegations and counter-allegations started between the BJP and the BPF. The BPF, as a smaller coalition partner and with two ministers in the Cabinet, was feeling overlooked and it was uncomfortable with the BJP’s demand, made through Sonowal, of helping the saffron party in having its footprint in BTAD districts. BTAD is the acronym for Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD). It refers to the area in Assam under the jurisdiction of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). Created under the sixth schedule of the Constitution of India, BTAD consists of four districts — Kokrajhar, Baksa, Udalguri and Chirang. These districts were carved out of seven existing districts of Assam — Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Nalbari, Barpeta, Kamrup, Sonitpur and Darrang. The current capital of BTAD is Kokrajhar.
Hagrama Mohilary alias Hagrama Basumatary is the Chief Executive Member of the BTC. He was previously the chief of BLTF. The BTC was formed as aforesaid in the Memorandum of Settlement signed by the Government of India on February 10, 2003. Consequently, Mohilary was elected as the chief of the BTC which comprises 12 other executive members. At present, he is the chief of the BTC and the chairperson of the BPF.
Mohilary accused the Chief Minister of forcibly trying to make the BJP’s presence felt in the Bodo-dominated areas, adding that the party has strategically decided to put up its candidates in the BTAD-dominated districts in the Lok Sabha polls to prove that the BJP, as the major coalition partner, has the power to assert itself.
Another autonomous body, the BTC is a territorial council established in Assam, which came into existence immediately after the surrender of Bodo Liberation Tigers Force (BLTF) cadres in 2003. The BLTF members laid down their weapons in 2003 under the leadership of Mohilary and Mohilary was sworn in as the Chief Executive Member (CEM).
The BTC has 46 executive members, each looking after a specific area of control, called somisthi. It constitutes 35 per cent of marginalised tribal groups such as Bodos, Rabhas, Garos, etc, who are against the hegemony of the Assam government. The BTAD region, under the BTC, falls within the geographical map of the least developed region in India, where agriculture-based economy is the only source of livelihood of the people.
The BJP is hell-bent on establishing itself among the tribal groups, particularly the marginalised ones, for its political sustenance and the BJP leadership has given the task to the Chief Minister to ensure that the Bodos have leaders of BJP orientation who could influence decisions.
Mohilary dropped a bombshell that the BJP cadre in Bodo-dominated areas have been demanding money from peasants with a promise to get them a house under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna, the housing scheme for the poor. But it was an unfounded allegation by Mohilary and the BJP central leadership found this allegation untrue as there is not a single member of the BJP in the BTAD — thus, they cannot demand money in a body in which they have no presence. The BJP is trying to spread its tentacles in the state, particularly in areas where there is a minuscule presence of Muslims.
Aminul Laskar is the lone Muslim in the Sonowal cabinet and was elected on a BJP ticket. Muslims comprise 34 per cent of the population of Assam.
Muslims, on the other hand, dominate the Opposition bench, comprising 40 members. Fourteen of them are Congress MLAs and 12 are All India United Democratic Front MLAs. Thus, the BJP is trying to plant its footprints in the tribal areas and, with its might and power, could create fissures among the Bodo community for its political space.
PRAKASH BHANDARI DNA