Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Shift in dynamics from call for peace, separation to development in Assam's Bodo heartland Kokrajhar

'People are happy with the way we restored peace and bridged the trust deficit among the Bodos and non-Bodos," said Pramod Boro, chief of United People's Party Liberal', which is an ally in the BJP-led government in state.
Last Updated : 04 May 2024, 23:42 IST
Last Updated : 04 May 2024, 23:42 IST

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Kokrajhar(Assam): "No Bodoland, no rest, divide Assam 50:50." Slogans like this have disappeared from the walls in and around Kokrajhar, the headquarters of Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) and the centre of elections in Assam's Kokrajhar Lok Sabha constituency, reserved for ST candidates.

Slogans like this dominated the decades-long agitation for a separate state for the Bodos, Assam's biggest tribe, and the clamour for separation grew ahead of elections in the past. This election is different as the demand for Bodoland state has gone silent and those leading the movement are in power of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).

The BTC is an autonomous council set up in 2003 after the now-disbanded insurgent group Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) gave up arms. The Bodoland People's Front (BPF), a political party led by former BLT chief Hagrama Mohilary headed the council till 2021.

By late evening, the streets in Kokrajhar are no longer deserted unlike before 2020 when the army and CRPF personnel used to man the streets, frisk vehicles, and shops downed shutters by 7 pm due to insurgency.

"Now you will find shops open till 11 pm in some places," Binoy Narzary, a Bodo youth who runs a mobile phone store here told DH. Many food delivery partners can be seen near restaurants at Jwhwlao Dwimalu Road or JD Road.

"People are happy with the way we restored peace and bridged the trust deficit among the Bodos and non-Bodos," said Pramod Boro, chief of United People's Party Liberal (UPPL), the party heading the BTC since 2021.

UPPL is an ally in the BJP-led government with seven MLAs. Pramod, former president of the influential All Bodo Students' Union (ABSU), which headed the Bodoland Movement, convinced all four factions of the insurgent group, NDFB to give up violence and sign the pact. Nearly 1,800 insurgents belonging to NDFB and Adivasi groups gave up arms and joined the mainstream.

"Apart from peace, the amount of development work we have undertaken since 2021 will help us win in Lok Sabha elections for the first time," Boro had said recently.

BJP is supporting Joyanta Basumatary, a UPPL MLA (Sidli Assembly constituency) and former vice-president of ABSU for the Kokrajhar Lok Sabha seat. BPF, which was an ally of BJP till 2021, has fielded former minister Kampa Borgoyari while Congress has named Garjan Mushahary for the May 7 polls. 

Confident Hagrama Mohilary

BPF Chief Hagrama Mohilary, however, exuded confidence that the people would vote against the UPPL-BJP candidate as the party remained busy with its slogan of peace only and failed to do development.

"They failed to create jobs and control prices. Whatever infrastructure development Bodoland has seen happened during our tenure," he said. UPPL, however, countered Hagrama by highlighting the recruitments in government departments, a new medical college in Kokrajhar, a revamp of Bodoland University, land rights issues, beside other infrastructure development projects in BTR since 2021.

"Business activities are also picking up with the end of killings, abduction, and extortions," said Raju Kumar Narzary, a general secretary of UPPL.  

Congress too could be a strong contender given the fact that its candidate Sabda Ram Rabha had emerged third with over 1.47 lakh votes in 2019. 

Bodo-non Bodo equation 

Despite having only 35% Bodo population, Kokrajhar elected Bodo leaders to Lok Sabha since 1957, barring in 2014 and 2019 when Naba Kumar Sarania, a non-Bodo and a former "commander" of insurgent group Ulfa, got elected. Sarania won the elections banking on his Bodo-non Bodo equation. The scenario, however, changed as Sarania's nomination was rejected this time after his Scheduled Tribe (ST) certificate issued in 2011 was rejected by Gauhati High Court, recently.

Pramod, however, claimed that the Bodo-non Bodo equation was no longer relevant in BTR as UPPL bridged the trust deficit among communities by ending militancy. "We are constantly reaching out to all non-Bodo communities to understand and address their problems," he said.

The Kokrajhar Lok Sabha constituency comprising Kokrajhar, Chirang and Baksa has 58% non-Bodo votes. Koch Rajbongshis, Adivasis, Bengali Hindus and Muslims are key stakeholders. The long demand for ST status for Koch Rajbongshis may also act against the UPPL-BJP due to the saffron party's failure to fulfill its promise to the community. Independent candidate Prithviraj Narayan Dev Mech is harping on the issue to make a mark.

Published 04 May 2024, 23:42 IST

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