Serial attacks by armed militants from the Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) have claimed the lives of at least 67 Adivasis (who are still fighting for tribal status), in villages in Sonitpur, Kokrajar and other districts, in a shocking recrudescence of ethnic violence. Assam, with a history of more than three decades of insurgency, has seen fewer incidents of militant violence overall during 2014 than in any recent year. Two of the major militant groups, the United Liberation Front of Asom led by Arabinda Rajkhowa and the NDFB led by Ranjan Daimary, have come to the negotiating table, though there has been only limited progress in the talks.
Meanwhile, the NDFB (S), opposed to the talks, stepped up acts of extortion and abduction. Sustained operations by the security forces against it have led to the killing and arrest of several of its cadres in recent months, principally in the Bodoland Territorial Areas District along the India-Bhutan border. Significantly, the latest attacks came soon after the State’s Director General of Police revealed intelligence on expected attacks by the group, and Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi dismissed threats by the NDFB (S) of retaliation against the stepped up operations against it.
The immediate challenge before the authorities is to ensure that the killings do not lead to ethnic clashes on a wide scale that could lead to a larger conflagration. Meanwhile, the best way of stripping the NDFB (S) and any others of its ilk of the facade of the “Sovereign Boroland” cause behind which they seek to mask their criminal intent, will be for the government to address at the earliest the genuine aspirations of the Bodo people in terms of development and entitlements, that would take the people forward from their state of deprivation that stems from historical anomalies and injustices. Efforts to drive a wedge between Bodo and non-Bodo sections need to be countered effectively.
Everything should be done to ensure the integration of the different strands of the population. Also, the talks being held with two organisations should be pursued with a sense of seriousness if only to demonstrate the fact that it pays to talk. Alongside such an approach, employing tactics that combine physical sweeps with the help of security forces and an effective intelligence network on the ground, the state should root out the menace of faux terror indulged in by the NDFB (S) cadres who are estimated to number less than 300 and who strike in hit-and-run mode in areas that are remote, forested and inaccessible. In this battle, the Centre should deploy and commit its security forces to aid the State — rather than indulge in any sort of a blame game.