Non-Bodo man's LS victory led to Assam clashes

Fuelled by strife: The MP won from Kokrajhar-capital of the Bodo Territorial Area District

Non-Bodo man's LS victory led to Assam clashes

The ethnic clashes that have rocked Assam can be traced back to the victory of Heera Saraniya in the recent Lok Sabha elections from Kokrajhar.

While a loose peace existed between Bodos and non-Bodos in the region, Saraniya’s win, riding on non-Bodo votes even in the Bodo heartland, intensified the tension between the two communities.

Although the trigger for the recent clashes in the region was an NDFB(S) attack, the tension was seething ever since non-Bodo Saraniya’s win.

What hurt the Bodo pride the most was that Saraniya won from Kokrajhar—the capital of the Bodo Territorial Area District (BTAD), an autonomous region ruled by the Bodoland Territorial Council, the result of a prolonged struggle and much Bodo bloodshed. 

Sources said while Bodo loyalties were being divided before the general elections between the candidates chosen by BTAD leaders, the Congress and the BJP, non-Bodos rallied behind Saraniya, a former commander of one of the most dreaded battalions of the United Liberation Front of Assam.

While he belongs to the Saraniya Kachari tribe, a Bodo sub-group, his claim of being from a scheduled tribe—Kokrajhar is reserved for ST candidates—was contested by Bodo groups even when his nomination papers were accepted by the Election Commission.

Despite Kokrajhar being the capital of BTAD, the area’s population is dominated by Bengali Hindus and Muslims, along with non-Bodo tribes and ethnic groups, which has resulted in an uneasy relationship between Bodos and non-Bodos for a long time. The prospect of being ruled by a minority group has been a long-standing grouse, a fact Saraniya banked on to secure the support of influential non-Bodo community leaders.

The situation was such that the All Bodoland Minority Students’ Union, dominated by Bengali-speaking Muslims and other groups, came out in open support of Saraniya in poll campaigns.

As such groups voted for Saraniya en bloc, the result shook the leadership of the Bodo People's Front, the ruling party in BTAD.

In a knee-jerk reaction, some Bodo leaders made inflammatory remarks against Muslims, which led to riots soon after the polls, as had taken place in 2012 when more than 100 people on both sides died, and panicked Bengali Muslims fled towards West Bengal.

While a large section of non-Bodos resent the BPF leadership for failing to develop the BTAD region, Bengali Muslims have been most vocal against the Bodo leadership.
Independent observers believe that the Centre and the state government are to blame for the situation.

Government offensive

“The government brutally suppressed the Bodo movement when it started, but around 2003 the Centre seemed eager to change the Constitution to create BTAD, without taking into account the aspirations and interests of the non-Bodo communities,” said one person.

While the BTAD’s creation further aggravated the situation—non-Bodo communities felt the government was being unjust towards them—the Bodo peace accord instead rendered the situation more volatile.

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