NDFB: Violent Drift
By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty, SAIR 14/9/09
Sep 15, 2009 - 10:04:30 AM

The cease-fire agreement between the Government of India and the Assam-based militant National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) has been extended for a period of six months, till December 2009. The truce extension came following a meeting between representatives of the Union Home Ministry and NDFB at New Delhi on July 4, 2009, after the previous cease-fire term ended on June 30.The NDFB first signed a cease-fire agreement with the Union Government on May 25, 2005, and the truce has since been extended periodically.

The cease-fire, now in its fifth year, has, however, still to bring peace to the Bodo-dominated areas of Assam, and the ‘peace process’ is still to progress beyond the rudiments of the cease-fire agreement. NDFB spokesman Sanjarang thus declared, "The Government has assured us to hold peace parleys (sic) during the current term… In fact, we wouldn't have agreed to go for another extension (of the ceasefire) had the Government not committed to hold peace negotiations during the current term… If they (the Centre) fail to hold talks in the next six months, we will regard this as their defeat."

These years of ‘truce’ have seen numerous violations of the ground rules of the cease-fire by NDFB cadres. Sanjarang, however, claimed that NDFB cadres have remained confined to three designated camps since the accord. Approximately 1,027 NDFB militants, excluding the married ones, are reportedly living in three designated camps at Kokrajhar, Udalguri and Borbori in the Baksa District of western Assam.

In addition to cease-fire violations, the state faces the complexity of having to deal with two NDFB factions. Notwithstanding the May 2005 accord, NDFB chief Ranjan Daimary and his supporters remain holed up at safe havens in Bangladesh. The distinct lack of progress in the peace talks has deepened divisions between the Ranjan Daimary faction that continues to oppose any dialogue with the Government of India and the pro-talks faction that consists of Assam-based senior and middle level leaders who came over-ground following the truce. The pro-talks faction is presently led by Dhiren Boro alias B. Sungthagra.

Within the NDFB, there has always been a conflict between the moderates who support a dialogue and hardliners who oppose any peace talks with the Government, undermining the relevance of the ongoing peace process, with a section of the outfit still engaged in militant activities.

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, there were at least 45 cease-fire violations by the NDFB between May 26, 2005, and the 0ctober 30, 2008, serial blasts which killed 87 persons and injured over 200. The NDFB stands accused of having orchestrated these blasts. There were 82 arrests, nine cases of surrender, five cases of extortion, and nine relating to abduction during this period. While NDFB militants shot and killed nine persons, it lost 21 cadres in various encounters with the Security Forces during this period. Thereafter, between October 30, 2008, and September 9, 2009, there have been 105 cease-fire violations by the NDFB.

On the ground in Assam, violence and subversion is attributed to both the factions. Consequently, the extension of the cease-fire is not expected to lead to any worthwhile improvement. In fact, the truce extension with the pro-talks faction came amidst operations by the Security Forces (SFs) against militants of the anti-talks faction. 45 militants of the anti-talks group were killed by the SFs between April 1, 2009, and July 4, 2009.

The pro-talks leader, Dhiren Boro, had, earlier in 2009, indicated that his faction was willing to drop its demand for sovereignty and to participate in elections. However, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram had told journalists in New Delhi on January 1, 2009, that the cease-fire extension with the NDFB would depend on the report of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) currently probing the serial bombings of October 2008. On January 6, 2009, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had made it clear that "the NDFB would have to abide by the ground rules in letter and spirit and should not engage in violence. If they involve in any violence in future we will be forced to take action against them."

Ranjan Daimary does not recognize the new Dhiren Boro faction, and has vowed to continue the 'struggle' for the 'freedom' of Bodos in Assam. Cadres living in the three designated camps remain confused over the issue of loyalty. Though Ranjan Daimary is based in Bangladesh, there are a number of cadres in the designated camps who remain loyal to him. This has translated into several fratricidal incidents, though these are not at a dangerous level presently.

There has been a series of surrenders in the recent past, with at least 63 militants laying down arms thus far in 2009. Among these, 42, including a number of ‘corporals’ and ‘lance corporals’, mostly from the outfit’s "4th battalion", surrendered before the Assam Police at Mushalpur in Baksa District on January 13. "The organisation no longer has the old ideology and we have lost confidence in the leadership. So we decided to surrender," 27-year-old ‘corporal’ Dino Boro confessed. On January 25, eight NDFB militants surrendered before the Superintendent of Police of Golaghat District. Later, on February 28, five NDFB cadres surrendered along with a large cache of arms and ammunition before the Red Horns Division of the Indian Army at Rangiya in Kamrup District. Eight NDFB militants surrendered before the Golaghat District administration on March 18.

Security sources indicate that the anti-talks faction has strong bases in Bangladesh with at least 100 cadres in at least 10 bases, some of which are in the Khagrachari area. The Ranjan Daimary faction does not, however, rely only on its Bangladesh-based cadres for subversive activities in Assam. Information gleaned from arrested NDFB militants from time to time has established the fact that he still commands the loyalty of some cadres staying in the Government designated camps and others who are still at large in Assam. The problem has been compounded by the Government’s sluggishness in consolidating the peace process. Many of the NDFB cadres, who have been doing almost nothing since they moved into the designated camps several years ago, are tempted to return to militancy and have joined hands with the anti-talk faction, which continues to engage in violence across Bodo-dominated areas. Some of the significant incidents involving NDFB cadres in 2009 include:

August 16: Two Army personnel and an NDFB militant were killed in an encounter at Garugaon on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border area under Dhekiajuli Police Station of Sonitpur District. The Army personnel were conducting a search operation in the Garugaon area after getting intelligence on the movement of militants. During the search operation, the Army came across a four-member group of the Ranjan Daimary faction of the NDFB who were engaged in an encounter.

June 30: NDFB militants shot dead four members of a family at Naharani Grant village under Rangapara Police Station in Sonitpur District. The deceased were identified as Munna Pal, his wife Subhapati Pal, younger brother Tunna Pal and his three-year old son Pankaj Pal.

June 22: Five NDFB militants were shot dead and a huge cache of arms and ammunition was recovered in two separate incidents in Assam. Three NDFB militants, including ‘area commander’ B. John Wan, were killed in an encounter with SFs at Majbat in Udalguri District. In another incident, two NDFB militants were killed in an encounter with the Police and Army at Dhekiajuli in Sonitpur District.

June 17: SFs shot dead three NDFB militants during an encounter at Auguri village under Gogamukh Police Station of Dhemaji District. The militants were taking shelter in the residence of one Niranjan Swargiary.

June 14: Four militants of the anti-talks faction were shot dead and another was arrested by the SFs near Jhargaon village in Baska District.

June 4: Four NDFB militants were shot dead by the SFs during encounters in the Sonitpur and Udalguri Districts. While two militants were killed at Khanamukh in Sonitpur District, two others were killed during another encounter at Jingebil in Udalguri District.

May 19: SFs shot dead six NDFB militants in a jungle under Dokmoka outpost of Howraghat Police Station in the Karbi Anglong District. Police sources said the militants taking shelter in a transit camp inside a deep jungle near Donghaf opened fire as the SFs advanced towards the militant camp.

It has been established from investigations into the serial blasts of October 30, 2008, that the Ranjan Daimary faction is taking help from the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), to execute terrorist strikes in Assam. An unnamed Home Ministry official stated, on November 9, 2008, "We have found that the Bangladesh-based HuJI has provided the expertise to ULFA and NDFB as none of them has the technology to explode such devastating bombs." While speaking in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament), Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram said, on December 16, 2008, "The HuJI of Bangladesh had perpetrated the October 30 Asom serial blasts in which NDFB were also involved." The Government had intelligence inputs that the NDFB and other insurgent groups in the Northeast have been working with the HuJI, the Home Minister added. The Ranjan Daimary faction has, moreover, established links with the ULFA. Investigations into the serial blasts of October 2008 revealed the close nexus between the two terrorist organisations. Further, security sources believe that the anti-talks faction of the NDFB, ULFA, and the Black Widow (BW) outfits have joined hands, as they were under pressure from the ongoing SF operations against them.

According to SATP, the anti-talks faction has killed 16 civilians and three SF personnel in 2009. A number of abduction and extortion cases have also been registered by the Police against NDFB cadres. Operations against the group have led to 61 militant fatalities in 2009. The Ranjan Daimary faction, facing the heat, called for a 12-hour general shutdown across Assam on August 5, to protest against what it alleged were ‘systematic killings of the Bodo community’ by the SFs. B. Barbai, who claimed to be the 'Sergeant Major' of the NDFB's General Headquarters, said the Assam Police and Army has been killing common people in the name of operations against the NDFB.

The renewal of the cease-fire agreement will do little to alter the ground situation in the Bodo areas of Assam. As long as the anti-talks faction retains capacities to act in the State, and to command the loyalty of at least some cadre – including a proportion of those residing in designated camps in Assam – there is little possibility of bringing the ongoing violence to an end.

Source: Ocnus.net 2009