Ocnus.Net

Dysfunctions
Assam: The NDFB’s Resurrection
By Bibhu Prasad Routray, SAIR 28/5/07
May 29, 2007 - 12:25:40 PM

The May 25 announcement of the now-customary extension of ceasefire with the National Democratic Front of Bodoland ( NDFB ) notwithstanding, with each passing day the situation in the Bodo heartland of Assam is beginning to resemble the chaotic peace that prevails in the not so distant Nagaland . Several pockets in the Districts of western and central Assam, which have traditionally been home to the largest plains’ tribe in the State, the Bodos, are steadily sliding towards a state of systematically disregarded violence as a result of a war of attrition between the remnants of the disbanded Bodo Liberation Tigers ( BLT ) and the NDFB cadres. Neither the indifferent State Government nor distant New Delhi appears to be concerned about the steadily resurrecting NDFB.

 

The Union Government currently observes ceasefires with nine militant groups in Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura. However, the ‘ceasefire’ as a tool to establish peace in the restive Northeast has repeatedly failed in all cases, barring one, the Nayanbashi Jamatiya faction of the National Liberation Front of Tripura ( NLFT ). Hurriedly concluded ceasefires, based on vague and unprincipled ground rules, have not restricted the activities the militant groups that, in turn, have used the prevailing circumstances to institutionalise their activities including extortion and fratricidal wars with their rivals. There is little to suggest, that the two-year old ceasefire with the NDFB, which commenced in May 2005, has in any manner led to an augmentation in the control of the security forces in areas dominated by the militant outfit.

The peace process itself remains stalled over New Delhi’s insistence on a charter of demands from the NDFB, before negotiations begin. The NDFB’s leadership, however, including its Bangladesh-based ‘chairman’ Ranjan Daimary, has steadfastly refused to abide by periodic deadlines set by the Union Government to provide the charter, which it says would be submitted, "at an appropriate time and not according to India’s wishes". The intention to delay the dialogue process is quite clear in the various pronouncements emanating from the NDFB leadership. For instance, Ranjan Daimary in an interview on May 14, 2007, maintained that he was prepared to wait till India proves "its sincerity and honesty by resolving political conflicts with the NSCN (both factions), United People’s Democratic Solidarity ( UPDS ), Dima Halim Daogah ( DHD ) and the Achik National Volunteers’ Council ( ANVC )." Toeing a similar line, the outfit’s ‘general secretary’ Govinda Basumatary, stated, on May 15, that the delay is "not a very long time as formal talks with the National Security Council of Nagaland – Isak-Muivah ( NSCN-IM ) started only after seven years of signing of ceasefire agreement… We do not want to expedite the process of talks and commit mistakes."

It is not difficult to discover the reason behind NDFB’s ‘patience’. The ceasefire regime has provided the group with an enormous opportunity not only to consolidate its strength, but also to run an efficient extortion network in its areas of dominance. The insurgent group has carried out several recruitment drives not only in the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) Districts, but also in the hilly Karbi Anglong District, which has a sizeable Bodo population. Its extortion drives have targeted the local civilian population as well the vehicles passing through the area. Since Districts such as Kokrajhar serve as the entry point for Assam, the NDFB’s extortion network casts its net wide, targeting virtually every single vehicle that enters the Northeast region. At least two incidents in January 2007, in which three trucks were set ablaze in the Baska and Chirang Districts, were linked to non-payment of NDFB ‘taxes’. NDFB cadres have even travelled to cities such as Guwahati to collect ransom amount from businessmen and Government officials.

The ceasefire has been marred by several problems, each highlighting a complete lack of preparedness that preceded its conclusion. According to the agreement, NDFB cadres are supposed to stay within the confines of their ‘designated camps’. However, only 200 cadres are staying in the three camps established so far at Sapkaita (Udalguri District), Medaghat (Baska District) and Bengtol (Kokrajhar District). While NDFB has complained about the lack of basic amenities in the camps, moves to set up more camps in different Districts have been resisted by the local people. As a result nearly 700 cadres (on NDFB estimates) are outside the camps and are free to move about in the country side. Interestingly, the group had a registered cadre strength of 1,027 at the time of the Agreement, which has, for unexplained reasons, has gone down to about 900.

Accusations of ceasefire violations have been mounting against the NDFB. On March 31, NDFB militants killed a personal security officer of a BTC executive member at Kumarikata Bazaar under the Tamulpur Police Station limits of Baska District. Again, on May 20, NDFB militants killed four persons, including a former-BLT cadre, in the Sonitpur District. The NDFB has denied its involvement in both the incidents, but appears to have acted in retaliation against the killing of two of its cadres in an attack by former BLT cadres at its Medaghat Camp on March 26. The NDFB has also accused former BLT cadres of raising a new militant group, the Bodoland Royal Tiger Force.

The Joint Monitoring Group (JMG) comprising representation from the Centre, Assam Government and the NDFB, has been a completely ineffective body, and has done little to address rising concerns. Similarly, attempts by community-based groups such as the Bodo Sahitya Sabha, All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) and the Bodo Samaj, to end the differences between the former BLT and the NDFB, have had little impact.

It is useful to place the overall violence of the NDFB in the context of its history of acrimonious and violent relationship with the erstwhile BLT, especially between 1998 and 2000. Interestingly, both the groups originated with claims of representing ‘Bodo rights’. While the NDFB wanted a ‘sovereign’ Bodoland, the BLT – widely believed to have been supported by the intelligence agencies as a counter-force to the NDFB – had the relatively limited objective of a ‘separate’ state of Bodoland. Both before it opted for a ceasefire with the Government and thereafter, the BLT has borne the brunt of NDFB violence, which has systematically targeted its leaders, cadres and sympathisers.

BLT’s Memorandum of Settlement with the Union and Assam Governments on February 20, 2003, was followed by the en masse surrender of its 2,641 cadres on December 6, 2003. Much of its cadre strength has since been absorbed into the Central Para-military Forces (CPMF), while the leadership and remaining cadres have formed the Bodo People’s Progressive Front (BPPF). The BPPF has since been split into the Hagrama (H) and the Rabiram Brahma (R) factions. The BPPF-H controls the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), headquartered at Kokrajhar and is also a partner in the ruling coalition led by the Congress Party in State capital Dispur.

The BTC deal with New Delhi had proven a decisive nail in the coffin for the NDFB, whose capacities were further degraded following the December 2003 military operations in Bhutan, where the bulk of its cadres were based. The ineffective ceasefire and the political rivalry between the two factions of the BPPF are, however, allowing the NDFB to revive influence and operations. The BPPF-H is clearly worried by NDFB’s campaigns beyond the group’s traditional stronghold in Udalguri. Of late, the NDFB has moved into Kokrajhar to exploit the differences between the BPPF-H and BPPF-R. The latter, in order to revive its political fortunes, has chosen to ally with the NDFB and was in the forefront of rallies that condemned the March attack on the NDFB’s Medaghat camp. Political rivalries have also driven the ABSU, Bodo Women's Justice Forum, and the All Bodo Peace Forum into the NDFB camp, and these groups have taken out rallies in support of the insurgent outfit.

While the struggle for political space, interspersed with some violence, may still be acceptable within the Northeast’s troubled scenarios, the NDFB’s recent revival of relations with its former comrade-in-arms, the United Liberation Front of Asom ( ULFA ), sends more disturbing signals. Intelligence reports indicate a tactical alliance between the ULFA and the NDFB, with the latter assisting the ULFA to increase its dominance in the western Assam Districts and for gaining entry into Bhutan. As part of the pact, the NDFB is also said to have assisted ULFA in the abduction of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) Executive Director, N. Ram on April 17 from Guwahati. A ransom of INR 210 million was demanded for the senior executive, who remains currently untraceable, though the Assam Police has confirmed his confinement in the Baska District bordering Bhutan.

NDFB’s resurrection is a natural corollary not just of the political rivalry in the Bodo heartland, but also of the flawed character and free dispensation of ceasefire agreements in the region, which have released militant groups from the threat of security force operations, but have failed to bind insurgent cadres to a working code of conduct that can protect civilians and prevent extortion, intimidation and armed violence. Regrettably, these defective deals with terrorists remain the Centre’s preferred tool for containing extremist activities in the region .



Source: Ocnus.net 2007