The tripartite agreement signed between the central and Assam governments and a number of organisations representing Bodo groups holds the promise of bringing peace to the strife-torn Bodo region in the state. The Bodo areas, spread over four districts, have seen unrest and frequent violence in the last many decades. Efforts to put an end to the violence and resolve the recurring problem have continued all these years. This is the third Bodo agreement to be signed in the last 27 years. The violence has claimed over 4,000 lives and caused much loss to public and private property. While the first agreement was signed in 1993, leading to the creation of the Bodoland Autonomous Council with limited powers, the second agreement created a Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) with more powers and control over many subjects like education.
This week’s accord builds on this agreement and gives greater autonomy and more powers to the body, which will again be renamed as the Bodoland Territorial Region. It will also redraw the BTAD area by including some Bodo-dominated villages in it and excluding some others with dominant non-Bodo population. Some sections of the Bodos will also be granted Scheduled Caste status. All agitations of the Bodos have centred on the assertion of their identity, and they have demanded a separate state for themselves. The autonomous council idea evolved as a compromise. Under the agreement, the Centre has promised greater financial assistance for development of the areas. Militants belonging to the Bodo groups have been granted amnesty and will be rehabilitated after they surrender their arms later this week. The militant organisations will be disbanded within a month. All the Bodo groups have agreed to drop their statehood demand permanently. The agreement is expected to be viable because all the armed groups have agreed to surrender their arms.
The test of the agreement lies in how well it is implemented. It should be noted that non-Bodos are in a majority in the BTAD areas even after the boundary realignment. Bodo politics is faction-ridden. It was disagreements among the various groups and differences that developed over the terms of past agreements that led to their weakening and unravelling and necessitated a fresh one. The “outsider’’ issue may continue to be problematic as the issue of citizenship or work permit for non-domiciles in the Bodoland Territorial Region is yet to be addressed. One other problem is that the militants who surrender may continue with their old ways like kidnapping and extortion and be a threat to society. The government must ensure that they are effectively rehabilitated and are trained in skills that help them earn their livelihoods.