Indian Parliament made history on December 11, 2019 as the Citizenship Amendment draft law was passed. Participating in the debate, lone Nagaland MP in Rajya Sabha, K G Kenye made a brief speech with much political significance
“Sir, I rise to support the amended Citizenship Bill of 2019 and I will tell this House why I am supporting this Bill. I come from ground zero, the epicentre (northeast) of this controversy. The issue has been taken off the context completely. What is raised at the regional level on the ground and what is happening at the national level has taken a completely different turn,” he said.
Kenye, who was suspended later by NPF for his stand on the new Citizenship law, clarified that “our people in the North-East have no religious bias” vis-a-vis this law. But at the national level and more so in Delhi, things were given a new twist. A broad message was also given as if the entire north eastern region has turned anti-BJP and anti-Narendra Modi.
But on February 7, 2020 – a beaming Bodo community welcomed the Prime Minister – dancing to the drumbeats and raising pro-Modi slogans. It was a different atmosphere and for his part Modi said the new peace agreement with Bodos would herald a ‘new dawn’ for the violence-hit region.
In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said for him the eight states of North-East would look like 'Astha Laxmi' and notwithstanding anti-CAA politics, PM Modi and his party stand to be 'rewarded' in terms of electoral successes.
BJP has its own Chief Minister(s) in Assam, Tripura, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh and in Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya – it has its regional partners in power.
On February 7, Kokrajhar wore a fresh and festive look for two-three days. The All Bodo Student’s Union (ABSU) and NDFB, the militant group which came forward to ink peace pact, organised a bike rally on February 6. On the other hand the residents of Kokrajhar lit one lakh earthen lamps and prayed for overall peace in the region and to welcome the Prime Minister.
In fact, a closer look at the deal would make it clear that it was in tune with the cause of 'aspirational India' that the NDA dispensation has worked for a peace treaty with Bodos - one of the vulnerable communities in far-flung north east.
Most often Bodos complained about facing discrimination and their complaint used to be against Dispur (the citadel of power in Assam) and no so much against the centre.
The new agreement virtually creates 'a Bodo homeland' but without separating it from Assam. Here lies the win-win factor and which could be called a 'game changer'.
"This new pact with Bodos wherein all militant groups belonging to the community has come forward will be seen as a 'new Model of Development'," says eminent north east watcher Deepak Dewan.
There are demands for such separate homelands in other parts of Assam and in other states as well. It is now presumed that this catchword 'homeland without coming out of the parent and existing states' would be useful for the centre to reach out to other tribal groups in states like Manipur, to an extent in Nagaland - wherein in Mon-Tuensang region there is already a clamour for a separate Union Territory and also to other ethnic and tribal groups in Assam - in Karbi Anglong, and Cachar.
Nagas of Manipur under the leadership of militant group NSCN(IM) are at the advance stage of inking a lasting peace accord with the Modi government. Here in Manipur also there is resentment from Meitei Manipuris on ‘breakup’ of the state and thus the Bodo model could be helpful.
From the concept of general popularity and electoral politics, following this peace accord, the BJP is set for rich dividends. From the point of view of electoral politics, BJP is eyeing 12 seats in Bodo region for itself and possibly for its regional alliance partners. In Bengali-dominated Cachar Valley, where CAA has overwhelming acceptance there would be 15 seats. Here too, the Lotus party feels it can gain from the ‘Hindu votes’ even as Bengali Muslims would grudge it with more intensity. The Muslim votes in Cachar Valley and parts of Dhubri district – adjoining Bodo hubs - could now actually go to the AIUDF of Badruddin Ajmal.
“This will marginalise the Congress party further and hence the BJP leadership possibly would not mind that much as long as Congress remains in the periphery,” says Guwahati-based social worker Ratnadeep Gupta.
So, in terms of preparedness for 2021 Assembly elections in Assam, the BJP is seeking for itself a big 'advantage' – that is 12 Bodo-inhabited seats and 15 in Cachar Valley.
These are actually hardly understood by those indulging in rampant anti-CAA protest both in the Brahmaputra Valley and rest of India – like Shaheen Bagh sit in Dharna.
It is on this backdrop the visit of Prime Minister to Kokrajhar - the major township in the demarcated Bodo Territorial Region would gain its own importance. Notably, Modi’s first visit to Assam since the strong spate of anti-CAA protest in Brahmaputra valley region of the state was marked by drumbeats and dancing. Local Assam BJP leaders feel happy about the same and say - Modi's visit has given a big picture message that it is only in a part of Assam - that there is a problem with CAA and in rest of the state PM Modi undoubtedly remains a public hero, a performer and a catalyst of development.
Electorally yet again, other regional parties of Assam - AGP and AIUDF - had ceded anti-Congress space to the BJP in Barak Valley and Brahmaputra Valley regions in 2016.
But in Kokrajhar-based council, the entire electoral chess board could appear a little complex. On the backdrop of the new peace accord, there will be several other stakeholders into political chessboard. The influential All Bodo Students Union is a youth-based organisation and if they enter political fray, the BPF-BJP existing calculus would have to be revisited.
Moreover, the 'peaceable' comrades and leaders of various erstwhile NDFB groups including some popular Christian leaders will also harbour political aspirations. But, the refrain in the BJP camp is emergence of more regional parties would again further marginalise Congress.
The hitherto politically dominant player politically is Bodoland People’s Front, which has all 12 seats. More importantly, it is an alliance partner of the BJP.
What has been political masterstroke for the BJP is that the latest round of 'final settlement' offers a win-win situation for everyone except Congress. The game in Assam is not yet over. The Modi Government is working hard for peace talks with both the factions of ULFA. While one group is already in peace parleys since the time of UPA regime, fresh feelers have been sent to ULFA (Independent) faction leader Paresh Baruah. If the proposed pact materialises - Assam will be easily inching towards the Lotus party's lap and anti-CAA protest may also die down.
But from now — right from the word go as the 'implementation' to the peace pacts starts, the Sarbananda Sonowal-led regime has to effectively ensure that there are no bottlenecks. The state Chief Minister Sonowal and Finance Minister Himant Biswa Sarma have been directed from Delhi that what has been promised in the peace deal actually reaches on ground.
Moreover, there are a few challenges in terms of handling the sentiments of non-Bodos in the region. In terms of census statistics, Bodos constitute only 28-29 per cent of the Bodo Territorial Region's total population. Thus — Gorkhas, other Adivasi groups, Bengali Muslims and Assamese population also count.
Incumbent Lok Sabha MP from Kokrajhar seat Naba Sarania (Independent) is actually a non-Bodo.
But in the ultimate analysis, the matured nature of handling things in the form of this latest round of 'final settlement' to Bodo issue is a true game changer.
The government believe the accord will easily motivate all the other groups in the rest of Assam and in other states to shun violence and settle for agreement of peace and developments.
(The writer is a senior journalist)