Govt signs Bodo peace accord, ends decades-old armed movement for separate state

The Union government on Monday signed a peace accord with all four factions of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and two other influential regional outfits in an agreement aimed at ushering in political and economic stability in the Bodo-dominated regions of Assam by bringing an end to a decades-old armed movement for a separate state.

The All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU), which was once part of the movement for a separate Bodoloand, and the United Bodo People’s Organisation (UBPO) were among the signatories of the accord, which did not accede to the demand for a new state but pledged more powers for the Bodo-dominated regions in the North-east state.

The deal was signed in the presence of home minister Amit Shah in New Delhi. Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, state minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the home ministry’s joint secretary, Satyendra Garg, and the top leadership of all four factions of the NDFB and the ABSU, among others, were present .

The peace accord successfully brings together leading stakeholders under one framework, and those who were previously associated with armed resistance groups will now be entering the mainstream and contributing to the nation’s progress, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted soon after the deal was inked.

“The Accord with Bodo groups will further protect and popularise the unique culture of the Bodo people. They will get access to a wide range of development oriented initiatives. We are committed to doing everything possible to help the Bodo people realise their aspirations,” he wrote on the social media platform.

Home minister Shah assured that all promises will be fulfilled in a timebound manner, adding that the “historic” agreement will facilitate the development of Bodo areas, their language and culture without compromising on the territorial integrity of Assam. “Due to the violence perpetrated by Bodo militants, over 4,000 people lost their lives in the past few decades. No stone would be left unturned for the development of Assam and the North-eastern region,” he added.

With the signing of the peace accord, United Liberation Front of Assam-Independent (ULFA-I), formed in 1979 with the aim of creating an independent Assam, remains the only major active militant outfit in the state. ULFA-I, which carried out four low-intensity blasts on Republic Day in parts of upper Assam, does not have influence in the Bodo-dominated areas of lower Assam.

Chief minister Sonowal said different communities will be able to live in harmony and the accord will lay the foundation for a better future that will fulfil aspirations of the people.

Outlining the details of the accord, Sarma said 1,550 NDFB militants will surrender their arms on January 30, and an economic programme of ~1,500 crore will be implemented in the next three years. The Centre and the state will have equal contribution of ~750 crore each.

Sarma said the existing structure of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), comprising four districts, will be strengthened with more powers, and its seats will be expanded from 40 to 60.

A commission will be set up for the inclusion of Bodo-dominated villages in BTC and the exclusion of those where Bodos are not in majority. BTC will be renamed as Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR).

Monday’s deal was the third Bodo accord signed in the past 27 years since the movement for a separate Bodoland for the state’s largest tribe began over four decades ago. The first one signed with the ABSU in 1993 led to the creation of Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC). Ten years later, the second deal was signed with the Bodo Liberation Tigers, and led to the formation of BTC, which included Kokrajhar, Baksa, Chirang and Udalguri districts (collectively called Bodoland Territorial Area District).

The violent movement has claimed hundreds of lives and affected peace in Assam.