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Politics takes over as Assam toll rises to 32.

THE RECOVERY of nine more bodies on Saturday in the restive Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts ( BTAD) region took the death toll in Assam's latest episode of communal violence to 32.

Thirty people -- 22 in Baksa and eight in Kokrajhar -- have been arrested in connection with the violence that started with the murder of a family of three at Narasingbari village by heavily armed assailants on Thursday.

Centre sends help

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi blamed the militant outfit NDFB ( Songbijit), which has been demanding a separate homeland for Bodos, and said the National Investigation Agency ( NIA) has been tasked with the probe into the incident.

The Centre has dispatched 10 companies ( approximately 1,000 personnel) of central forces to Assam, with additional teams to be sent as required, the PMO said. Six Army columns have also been deployed in Kokrajhar and Baksa, the two Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts ( BTAD) at the centre of the bloodshed.

The seeds of the attack in the area were sown when Naba Kumar Sarania alias Hira Sarania -- a member of the ULFA faction that has surrendered -- decided to fight the Lok Sabha polls from Kokrajhar constituency, which is also the capital district of BTAD, as an Independent.

This put him in a contest against the candidate of the Bodoland People's Front ( BPF), the dominant political force in the BTAD. The BPF had fielded state Transport Minister Chandan Brahma.

Power struggle

Alleging atrocities by Bodos, as the BPF is in power in Bodoland Teritorrial Council, 19 non- Bodo organisations extended their support to Sarania. Among the over 15 lakh voters in Kokrajhar, only 6 lakh are Bodos. With four Bodo candidates in the fray, Brahma's victory depended on the support of the region's 9 lakh non- Bodo voters, of which four lakh are Muslims, mostly immigrant settlers from Bangladesh.

The open support offered by Muslims to Sarania became a flashpoint on April 24 -- the day of polling in Kokrajhar -- when a mischievous SMS in Bangla began circulating. It read: "EVMs have a strange wire. You press the torchlight ( Sarania's poll symbol) button but nangol ( the wooden plough of BPF) blinks". Provoked by this, irate minority voters attacked polling booths in Balapara and Harbhangra, killing one policeman and injuring another. BSF platoons opened fire to disperse a group of 40 people.

Seven people were gunned down at Balapara.

A week later, on April 30, BPF leader Pramila Rani said Brahma could lose because 80 per cent Muslims had voted for Sarania. If Brahma actually loses on May 16, this would be the first time a non- BPF MP will represent Kokrajhar since the party was formed.

Also, the election for the BTC is next year.

There are fears among the Bodos that losing the LS polls would encourage non- Bodos to team up and grab power in the Bodoland Territorial Council. Assam DGP Khagen Sarma echoed CM Gogoi's fears that the killings were the handiwork of NDFB ( Songbijit), which on Saturday denied any involvement in the killings. But Badaruddin Ajmal of the AIUDF, the largest Opposition party in Assam, alleged the murder was BPF vendetta against those who didn't vote for Brahma.

The theory received further traction when Border Development Minister Siddique Ahmed, who had been sent to take stock of the situation in Kokrajhar, too blamed the violence on extremist elements in the BPF. Meanwhile, Assam MLA Piyush Hazarika has claimed to have "clear evidence" to prove Modi's involvement in the attacks, and claimed that the BJP had forged an alliance with the two NDFB factions, Songbijit and Ranjan Daimary.

THE ROOTOFIT

THE clash between Bodos and non- Bodos, including Muslim immigrant settlers from Bangladesh, is not a new phenomenon.

Since 1990, Bodos have led a violent agitation demanding a separate Bodoland state or an independent country.

Granting autonomy to four districts of Assam, the BTAD was created in 2004 as part of an agreement between Bodo Liberation Tigers ( BLT) militants and the Centre. The BLT gave up arms, formed the BPF and fought elections to join the Bodoland Territorial Council, constituted to run BTAD. However, the dream of a separate state has not been abandoned yet, with the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, a fragmented militant separatist group, continuing to demand an independent state.

Bodos only comprise 30 per cent of BTAD population. According to political observers, the Bodo & non- Bodo clash is a ploy of Bodo leadership to systematically drive out the latter, particularly Muslims, from BTAD so that Bodos can gain majority and stake a stronger claim to 'Bodoland'.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:May 4, 2014
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