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Bodos divided

Sushanta Talukdar

The Bodoland People's Progressive Front has already been divided into two camps, less than a month since its formation.

IF THE run-up to the May 13 election to the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) is any indication of the future trends in Assam's Bodo politics, the fate of the new regional party — Bodoland People's Progressive Front (BPPF) — is uncertain.

The BPPF, formed on April 12, is now divided into two camps. The former Bodo Tiger Liberation (BLT) leaders and the cadres who returned to the mainstream ending their underground movement for Statehood are in one and the other is represented by the influential All Bodo Students Union. The ABSU spearheaded a strong over-ground Statehood movement and took the lead in the formation of the BPPF.

The cracks in the State's second largest regional party surfaced at the Kokrjhar headquarters of the BTC when several leaders of the disbanded militant outfit filed nominations against BPPF president Rabiram Narzary and several other official candidates.

The squabbling took a serious turn with the present BTC chief, Hagrama Mohillary, who headed the erstwhile BLT, extending open support to his former comrade in arms — Mono Kumar Brahma, the rebel candidate against Mr. Narzary in the Banargaon constituency.

Confusion prevailed when the voters saw Mr. Narzary and Rajya Sabha MP Urkhao Gwra Brahma sharing one platform to address election rallies, and Mr. Mohillary campaigning in favour of the rebel candidate.

For, till the other day — from the time of negotiations between the BLT, Centre and the State Government and the subsequent signing of the peace accord on February 10, 2003 and installation of the ad hoc council body to run the new administrative set up to formation of the new party — all these leaders spoke in one voice. Besides, there were also reports of clashes between former BLT cadres and ABSU workers.

Mr. Mohillary and four other official BPPF candidates have already won the election uncontested. Mr. Mohillary and two Bodo MPs — Mr. Brahma and Sansuma Khunggur Bwismuthiary — were elected members of the BPPF's policy-making body. The opposition to Mr. Narzary's candidature by the Mohillary camp was attributed to their apprehension over his potential claim to the top post in the BTC — chief executive member — presently held by Mr. Mohillary.

Efforts for a patch-up came in the form of a formal announcement by Mr. Narzary that his aim was not to become either the CEM or the Deputy CEM of the BTC. He only wanted to strengthen the BPPF.

The trouble began from the beginning of the electioneering process with the All Bodo Women's Welfare Federation, a key player in Bodo politics, withdrew from the new party because not a single woman candidate was nominated.

The influential women's body has now extended support to all former BLT leaders who have stood as rebel candidates against the official BPPF candidates.

Mr. Narzary, however, blames unnamed quarters in Dispur for the division in the BPPF. The ruling Congress has not fielded any candidate for the BTC elections in deference to an appeal made by the BPPF. But the Asom Gana Parishad has fielded 14 candidates, the Bharatiya Janata Party 17 and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) five. For the major political parties the BTC election is also an opportunity to test the waters in Bodo dominated areas ahead of the May 2006 Assembly election. In at least 10 of the 126 Assembly seats, the Bodos play a determining role.

Of the 40 seats in the BTC, the BPPF has won five uncontested. The two camps will now vie for the remaining 35 seats of which five are reserved for non-Scheduled Tribes and one is open to all. The State Government will nominate six members of the tribal council.

Immediately after the formation of the BPPF, its leadership had expressed the hope that it would bring stability in the Bodo heartland after years of unrest.

However, the indications of the May 13 BTC election are that it is most likely to create instability unless the Bodo leaders can amicably settle the issue among themselves.

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