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The Bodo Accord

 

The Bodo Accord

 

 

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The Bodo Accord

Introduction

Ethnicity has emerged as a major deciding factor among the different parties in the tangled Indian politics. As it is the region holding the largest number of ethnic groups, India has witnessed its fair share of ethnic, tribal and religious conflicts. The Bodos make up the largest tribal population of the 34 different communities in the state. For several decades, the Bodos have cited ethnicity as the main reason behind their call for legitimization and autonomy. Since the early 1960s, the call has fluctuated from the need for divided statehood to an absolute sovereign status[1]. The protracted revolutionary Bodo movement was at its height during the 1990s, which resulted in ethnic conflicts that negatively affected all the groups involved leading to significant massacres and internal displacement.

Only after the signing of the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) Accord in February 2003, was comparative calm realized between the radical Bodo Liberation Tigers and the central government. The unending wave of ethnic homicide in Assam is a clear indicator of the failure of the Bodo Accord. There is a close relationship between the Nellie massacres of 1980 and the current killings in Assam in terms of the core issues and the patterns. However, there is an exception to the Assam case in that the victims of the Bodoland bloodbath were mostly indigenous Bodo tribes including Chirang, Baska, and Kokrajhar[2]. Similar to the Nellie annihilation, the ethnic clashes in Bodoland Territorial Administered Districts (BTAD) are entrenched in differences over land, rapidly changing demographic shape, political rivalry, poor political representation of lesser Muslims and their consequent apparent anxieties. The next section discusses the different conflict resolution approaches examined by scholars and the evaluation of the Assam situation in depth.

Conflict Potential According To Crawford Young

In his chapter, Crawford Young discusses ethnicity as a social mobilizer within the contemporary world. He analyzed several aspects of ethnicity such as ancestry, common culture, kinship, and shared values. However, Crawford also noted that some factors such as language may be shared but not necessarily unite a community and instill a sense of peace and order. For instance, language may be shared as in the case of Hutus and Tutsis, but this did not avert inter-ethnic conflict between the two tribes. Nevertheless, the share elements within a particular ethnic group serve to become significant when they give rise to collective consciousness. This consciousness is both positive and negative in that it separates each community from the other. Nationalism emerges as the ultimate form of ethnic awareness and acts as the source of deviations, such as ethno nationalism[3].

The chapter also addresses the structural differences that exist between nationalism and ethnicity. According to Crawford, the ‘nature of the political claim advanced’ separates one from the other[4]. It is possible that ethnic consciousnesses can give birth to nationalism, but this is not a guarantee. Numerous ethnic groups have expressed their demands, but only a handful of these groups pursue authentic sovereignty. Discussing the potential for conflict in ethnic circles, Crawford noted that nationalization created national minorities; individuals who failed to identify with the common outlook and direction of the state. With the seclusion of minorities as ‘lesser citizens’, there is a possibility for conflict to erupt. Furthermore, cultural pluralism also holds the potential to trigger ethnic conflicts. Therefore, these two major premises hold the potential to trigger ethnic-based conflict within the New World.

Moving back into the discussion on the variable conflict potential of ethnicity, Crawford concentrated on the nature of ethnicity and nationalism among cross-border immigrants as compared to that of national minorities. In this particular case, Muslims settlers that originated from Bangladesh can be categorized as cross-border immigrants while Baska and Kokrajhar can be considered national minorities[5]. Cross-border minorities tend to have a trivial amount of nationalism that is prompted mostly by the need to blend and coexist with the rest of the citizens. Consequently, national minorities tend to have a deeper, more attached and aggressive perception of nationalism and ethnicity. In his chapter, Crawford proposed dialogue as the main approach towards ending the dilemma that existed between Bodo and affiliated tribes and the government.

Pros and Cons of Dialogue in Conflict Resolution

Dialogue as an approach towards solving the conflict within the Assam region has the following advantages. It combines and compromises on the demands of both parties, and this makes for conflict resolution. The problem with the Bodoland Accord was that the government failed to engage in talks with the Bodo community. Consequently, Bodo leaders strongly denied the whole accord and particularly clauses that vowed to protect the indigenous land of the Assamese people. Identifying the needs of different parties in the Bodoland conflict situation is important in understanding how dialogue would work[6]. Crawford proposed other solutions towards conflict resolution but focused on dialogue as the most effective and long-lasting solution.

The government in India is responsible for maintaining law and order within its territories. To that extent, the federal government had the objective of restoring peace and order within the Assam region. In order to achieve that, they opted to reconcile the quarrelling parties by allocating land and other resources. The Bodo community was awarded land that was originally deemed their property while Muslim settlers were also given a section of the land as they were considered legitimate citizens. These were the main needs of the government. On the other hand, the Bodo community had been ignored for a long time and sought to gain closure, as well as acknowledgement. Apart from this, the Bodo people also demanded a fair share of autonomy over domestic resources. With the needs of the two parties outlined, it is relatively easy to apply dialogue as a conflict resolution tool. However, while dialogue is an appropriate tool, several factors mentioned by Crawford play a significant role in the Assam ethnic dynamics. Winning the confidence of non-Bodos may prove to be a difficult challenge, especially in light of their previous rejection and open hostility. It may take the joint effort of the BLT and the government to restore faith in the agreement[7]. Furthermore, the support of the government is also necessary in ensuring that the pact is honored. The main reason behind the failure of the 1993 Bodo Accord was poor management, corruption and incompetence of the state machinery. Poor utilization of public funds resulted in skewed investment, and as such, the Bodo did not benefit much from the government’s efforts to rectify the situation.

Case Study: The Bodo Accord

The Bodoland Accord is currently the cause of disagreement between Bodos and non-Bodos in the newly created Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD), leading to seething ethnic tensions that often led to violence. The accord stipulated that the BAC would begin from the Sankash River and end at the Panchnio River with negotiation on the exact boundaries being left to local leaders and the government. 2,570 villages ended up being covered in the BAC region, and while at the higher ranks this was acceptable, the major Bodo populations were discontented[8]. While the Bodos, who hold the feeling that they have been abandoned, subjugated and singled out for several years, perceive the accord as a momentous opportunity to accomplish their pending demands, other non-Bodo communities feel the former are being given unnecessary attention, power and control[9].

The progress of literacy and learning among the minority tribes was insignificant while the Bodo, who lived in the districts of Kokrajhar and Kamrup, are among the least urbanized. For several years, the Bodo-inhabited areas have been neglected while they continue to experience numerous problems including their search for fertile lands. The problem arose when non-Bodos resented the efforts to include Bodo settlements into the BTAD, as this represented insecurity to larger communities[10]. Currently, the need for separate statehood is still rife amid divisions within the Bodo leadership into pro and anti-Saikia groups.

These changing demographics within the BTAD and the consequential land division, in turn, resulted in genuine concern among the Bodos, who faced the fear of being alienated in their own and other areas that were previously Bodo-dominated[11]. The conflict that ensued between Muslim settlers of Bangladesh origin and the Bodos is however, slightly misconstrued and needless since the latter’s leadership has failed to acknowledge that genuine Indian Muslim settlers are not the source of the problem[12]. The cause for this tension is in the faulty BTC Accord. The Act is evidently self-contradictory as it pursues the protection of native territory rights for the original Bodos while permitting foreign legal and refugee Muslims to own land freely. According to the Act, the current and constitutional rights that apply to all citizens concerning land acquisition before or on the date the Act came into force were retained. This is highly relevant especially as far as assessing the land privileges for genuine Muslim settlers is concerned[13]. The incongruity lies with the adjoining provision in the Act that fails to bar any national from the purchase or ownership of land either through allotment, settlement inheritance, or by other means of transfer, provided the said individual meets the requirements for being a citizen. The major problem is that not all Muslims are genuine foreigners. In fact, most of the Muslims that settled in Bangladesh were persecuted because of their knowledge of Bengali language[14].

As mentioned earlier in Crawford’s chapter on conflict and ethnicity, national minorities hold a great significance to ethnicity and nationalism. The Bodo people displayed this great sense of nationalism through several conflicts and confrontations after the BTC Accord was assented. Possibly, the conflict arose due to the sharp difference in nationalism and ethnicity that existed between the Bodos and Muslim settlers. Several sections of Bodoland have started becoming dangerous for non-Bodo populations, for instance, the Kokrjahar district, where many Muslims and other tribes have been murdered in 2014 alone[15].

Previous studies of the governments’ attempts at quelling inter-ethnic conflicts have used accords without much success. Previous efforts such as the Mizo Accord in 1986, Bodo Accords in 2003, and the Balochistan have indicated that state-led peace processes do not give power to struggling communities. Frequently, peace deals end up being power-sharing pacts for the political elites, rarely concluding in plural politics or more fair and comprehensive societies. An examination of the deliberations divulges that there is little intention or ability to tackle the grievances that fuel conflicts. For instance, the Bodo Accord (2003) concentrated on the core issue of land acquisition, but it failed to reveal any effective mechanism to control the conflicts that occurred due to struggle over the soil and nationalism.

Evaluation

The Bodoland crisis represents a deep-seated issue that exists between different ethnic groups and the state machinery. At the center of this conflict was the purported Bodoland Accord that was formulated to end the six-year confrontation that was officially initiated in 1987. The unmistakable antagonism to and isolation from the larger Assamese society had transformed over the years through an intricate process of assimilation. The accord contributed greatly towards disrupting the internal peace and unity within the larger India that has caused immeasurable damage and loss of lives[16]. This evaluation provides a critical approach towards the Assam situation.

First, the Bodoland accord lacked the political authority that was necessary in its implementation especially in the initial period. Nowhere in the accord is it indicated or described that certain political entities were responsible for seeing through the accord. In the end, all the objectives of the BAC fell short of their targets. Numerous essential and highly intricate and controversial issues regarding the boundaries, territory and demography of the BTAD region[17] arose. In particular, the incorporation or omission of villages having a diverse population within the projected BAC region was a major problem[18]. Furthermore, ever since the accord was signed, Bodoland politics has been characterized by infighting and opposition to Bodoland demands and policies. It was consequently obvious even at the moment of the apparent achievement of the Bodoland crisis that the BAC would not start and that it would fade away into another failed government project. It was similarly apparent that the challenging issues highlighting the agitation would transform into irregular forms.

The accord was discriminatory in several aspects. It failed to consider different aspects of the Bodo community during the investigation phase. While being implemented, the main goal of the government was to quell the conflict between Bodo and non-Bodo communities. In the process, the state failed to consider other fringe communities that became caught up in the conflicts. The result was that the government created an unstable situation within the districts. Previous experience clearly indicates that more complications have been produced in the process of awarding independence. In fact, the call for autonomy and secession are the main cause of all conflicts. Simultaneously, secession movements are always justified using different reasons. Such justification may be holding on to peace or may have different goals but those involved in such pressure groups always have a reason for their actions. In order to realize the objective of autonomy, any type of actions becomes justifiable[19]. Nonetheless, it is imperative that any analysis or evaluation of the Bodoland accord understand the whole history of India. The evaluation of the Bodoland accord and conflict revealed that it is important for the government to consult different ethnic and political leaders before implementing societal projects.

Conclusion

It is relatively easier to pinpoint the ethnic and structural problems than it is to come up with proposals on the best solutions to solving them. In a position involving common distrust, most of the proposals obviously generate new arguments. Nevertheless, three resolutions appear plausible. First, additional devolution of authority to states would significantly shift the power balance and greatly change the situations. This would partially deal with the tribulations in Assam and Punjab that are both affected by a limited reach and control of local resources[20].

Second, a deliberate effort needs to be made to enhance the learning achievements and economic levels among the Muslim community whose socio-economic primitivism is easily confirmed. Lastly, the secular leaders are obliged to make a constant effort to reinstate and entrench formal, socioeconomic concerns in independent politics. Biased communal principals and ethnic circles, both inside and outside political parties, but mainly within the governing party, should strive to be objective and impartial. Conscious leadership is an important aspect for political reconstruction within the Bodo communities[21]. The Assam Government needs to spearhead the relocation of the citizens in relief camps to their relevant villages based on the urgency. While this is being implemented, the state should maintain a comfortable and safe environment for the refugees. However, a long-term approach towards ending and preventing future instances of such violence, the state needs to facilitate the progress of dialogue between different groups that represent both communities[22]. The investigation ordered into the conflict needs to be finished urgently and the report released to the public.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Banerjee, R. Bodoland on the Boil Again: A Bodo Militants Lash Out, peace Accord Appears Increasingly Fragile. India Today In. (2013). Accessed January 15, 2014, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/as-bodo-militants-lash-out-peace-accord-appears-increasingly-fragile/1/293556.html

Basant, Rakesh, and Abusaleh Shariff. Handbook of Muslims in India: Empirical and Policy Perspectives. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Bercovitch, Jacob, and Richard Jackson. Conflict Resolution in the Twenty-First Century: Principles, Methods, and Approaches. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009.

Brown, Amy Benson, and Karen Poremski. Roads to Reconciliation Conflict and Dialogue in the Twenty-First Century. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2005. http://site.ebrary.com/id/10178056

Caruso, R. Ethnic Conflict Civil War and Cost of Conflict. Bradford: Emerald Group Pub, 2011. http://public.eblib.com/EBLPublic/PublicView.do?ptiID=746333

Darby, John P. Contemporary Peacemaking: Conflict, Peace Processes and Post-War Reconstruction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2008.

Dutta, Anuradha, and Urmimala Sengupta. Disturbing Silence: A Look into Conflict Profile of BTAD. New Delhi: Akansha Pub. House, 2011.

Hauss, Charles. International Conflict Resolution. New York: Continuum, 2010.

Kaviraj, Sudipta. The Imaginary Institution of India Politics and Ideas. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010, http://site.ebrary.com/id/10387029

Kim, Sebastian C. H., Pauline Kollontai, and Greg Hoyland. Peace and Reconciliation In Search of Shared Identity. Farnham: Ashgate Pub, 2008. http://public.eblib.com/EBLPublic/PublicView.do?ptiID=438300

Kumar Nath, Manoj. Bodo Insurgency in Assam: New Accord and New Problems. Strategic Analysis. (2003): 4-27. Accessed January 15, 2014, http://www.idsa.in/strategicanalysis/BodoInsurgencyinAssam_mknath_1003

Machanda, Rita. State-Led Peace Deals Led To Assam Violence. IBN Live. (2012). Accessed January 15, 2014, http://ibnlive.in.com/news/stateled-peace-deals-led-to-assam-violence/283291-55.html

Patel, Mohammad. Muslims in India. Philadelphia: Mason Crest Publishers, 2007.

Philpott, Daniel, and Gerard F. Powers. Strategies of Peace: Transforming Conflict in a Violent World. New York: Oxford University Press. 2010.

Samaddar, Ranabir. Peace Studies: An Introduction to the Concept, Scope and Themes. London: SAGE, 2005.

Samāddāra, Raṇabīra. The Politics of Autonomy Indian Experiences. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2005, http://public.eblib.com/EBLPublic/PublicView.do?ptiID=475989

Sikand, Yoginder. Muslims in India since 1947: Islamic Perspectives on Inter-Faith Relations. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004.

Singh, Deepak. Flaws of the Accord. The Indian Express (2012). Accessed January 15, 2014, http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/flaws-of-the-accord/982588/

Varshney Ashutosh. Ethnic and Religious Conflicts in India. Cultural Survival. (2014). Accessed January 15, 2014, http://www.culturalsurvival.org/ourpublications/csq/article/ethnic-and-religious-conflicts-india

Varshney, Ashutosh. Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India. New Delhi [etc.]: Oxford University Press, 2005.

 

[1] Machanda, Rita. State-Led Peace Deals Led To Assam Violence. Accessed January 15, 2014, http://ibnlive.in.com/news/stateled-peace-deals-led-to-assam-violence/283291-55.html. (IBN Live, 2012), 186.

[2] Caruso R. Ethnic Conflict Civil War and Cost of Conflict. http://public.eblib.com/EBLPublic/PublicView.do?ptiID=746333. (Bradford: Emerald Group Pub, 2011), 287.

[3] Darby, P. John. Contemporary Peacemaking: Conflict, Peace Processes and Post-War Reconstruction. (New York Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 11.

[4] Ibid, 13.

[5] Yoginder  Sikand. Muslims in India since 1947: Islamic Perspectives on Inter-Faith Relations. (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004), 185.

[6] Mohammad Patel. Muslims in India. (Philadelphia: Mason Crest Publishers, 2007), 278.

[7] Manoj Kumar Nath. Bodo Insurgency in Assam: New Accord and New Problems. Accessed January 15, 2014, http://www.idsa.in/strategicanalysis/BodoInsurgencyinAssam_mknath_1003. (Strategic Analysis, 2003), 289.

[8] Amy Benson Brown and Karen Poremski. Roads to Reconciliation Conflict and Dialogue in the Twenty-First Century. http://site.ebrary.com/id/10178056. (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2005), 187.

[9] Samāddāra, Raṇabīra. The Politics of Autonomy Indian Experiences. http://public.eblib.com/EBLPublic/PublicView.do?ptiID=475989. (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2005), 186.

[10] Sudipta Kaviraj. The Imaginary Institution of India Politics and Ideas, http://site.ebrary.com/id/10387029. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 39.

[11] Jacob Bercovitch, and Richard Jackson. Conflict Resolution in the Twenty-First Century: Principles, Methods, and Approaches. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009), 386.

[12] Ranabir Samaddar. Peace Studies: An Introduction to the Concept, Scope and Themes. (London: SAGE, 2005), 78.

[13] Rakesh Basant, and Abusaleh Shariff. Handbook of Muslims in India: Empirical and Policy Perspectives. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010), 40.

[14] Banerjee, R. Bodoland on the Boil Again: A Bodo Militants Lash Out, peace Accord Appears Increasingly Fragile. (2013). Accessed January 15, 2014, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/as-bodo-militants-lash-out-peace-accord-appears-increasingly-fragile/1/293556.html. (India Today In., 2008), 387.

[15] Varshney Ashutosh. Ethnic and Religious Conflicts in India. Accessed January 15, 2014, http://www.culturalsurvival.org/ourpublications/csq/article/ethnic-and-religious-conflicts-india. (Cultural Survival, 2014), 176.

[16] Ashutosh Varshney. Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India. New Delhi [etc.]. (Oxford University Press, 2005), 287.

[17] Daniel Philpott and Powers Gerard F. Strategies of Peace: Transforming Conflict in a Violent World. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2010), 28.

[18] Deepak Singh. Flaws of the Accord. The Indian Express (2012). Accessed January 15, 2014, http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/flaws-of-the-accord/982588/

[19] Sebastian  KimC. H., Pauline Kollontai, and Greg Hoyland. Peace and Reconciliation In Search of Shared Identity. http://public.eblib.com/EBLPublic/PublicView.do?ptiID=438300. (Farnham: Ashgate Pub, 2008), 459.

[20] Daniel Philpott and Powers Gerard F. Strategies of Peace: Transforming Conflict in a Violent World. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2010),  126.

[21] Anuradha Dutta and Sengupta Urmimala. Disturbing Silence: A Look into Conflict Profile of BTAD. (New Delhi: Akansha Pub. House, 2011), 348.

[22] Charles Hauss. International Conflict Resolution. (New York: Continuum, 2010), 167.

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