Birth of a new militant outfit and fresh gunshots being fired in Assam's Bodo heartland is a worrying development. If not nipped in the bud, fresh extremist violence will derail the hard-earned peace that returned to Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) following signing of the third Bodo accord last year. Conflicting claims over the circumstances leading to the death of two Bodo youths in the Ultapani forest area in Kokrajhar district have added to the confusion. The Assam Police claimed that two cadres of the newly formed extremist outfit -- United Liberation of Bodoland (ULB) -- were killed during an exchange of fire between the police and the cadres of the outfit in the forest when they were taken to bust a makeshift camp of the new outfit. Villagers of the two slain youths as well as several Bodos have raised the suspicion of "fake encounter" and also demanded a judicial probe into their death after they were arrested by police the previous day. Bandh called in BTR by a pressure group to protest the death of the two youths affecting normal life in areas of BTR is an ominous sign of return of uncertainties in Bodo areas. A probe into the incident to clear the air will help prevent escalation of the protest and prevent the newly formed outfit from taking advantage of the situation arising out of the conflicting claims over the encounter. The formation of the ULB in less than three weeks of surrender of the fourth team of National Liberation Front of Boroland (NLFB), a breakaway faction of the erstwhile National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB), has made peace fragile in BTR. Despite all the four factions of NDFB disbanding after signing of the third Bodo Accord, the BTR continues to grapple with the problem of proliferation of small arms. Police recovered eight grenades, two pistols with eight live rounds of ammunition from the encounter spot which sounds alert against small arms proliferating in BTR even after all insurgent outfits coming overground. Violence has no place in democracy and no outfit should be allowed to sabotage development activities in BTR which has been accelerated by the Bodo Accord. The Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) authorities staying focused in pushing development work in all nook and corners of BTR is essential to prevent the fringe elements from misguiding unemployed youth to take up arms again. The Assam government as well as the Central government expediting rehabilitation of surrendered NDFB militants is critical in preventing the new outfit to recruit them. The claim by Assam Police that two slain ULB cadres were also former cadres of a disbanded NDFB faction is a pointer the new outfit targeting surrendered militants as their potential recruits. When rehabilitation of surrendered cadres is delayed while their leaders enjoy political power and other benefits, frustration sets in among the cadres; and the fringe elements try to woo them. It happened in the past in BTR, but lessons were not learnt. Even as more than one year and seven months have elapsed since the signing of the Bodo Accord in January last year, rehabilitation of over 1,600 surrendered NDFB cadres is pending.
The BTC authorities and the State government must immediately implement the rehabilitation programme for 4,036 cadres of the disbanded NDFB faction, has become crucial to prevent the new outfit from taking advantage of the delay. The State government approved a package of Rs 160 crore for the rehabilitation programme in June under which the former militants would be imparted skill training for their gainful engagement in economic development process in BTR. The clamour for release of NDFB founder chief Ranjan Daimary, who has been serving prison term in connection with the October 30, 2008 serial blasts cases, may gain ground as the ULB revived the demand for a separate State for the Bodos and release of Daimary. The signatories of the Bodo Accord gave up their Statehood demand and settled for more autonomy for BTC as they could realise that a separate State of Bodoland is not viable, rather the Bodo areas can develop faster through sharing of power and governance under the Sixth Schedule and peaceful coexistence in the State. The BTC authorities ensuring that all communities living in BTR are made equal stakeholders in development activities of the territorial council will help it mobilise support against any fringe elements reviving gun culture in the Bodo heartland. The BTR has left behind decades of violence and buried bitter memories of armed conflict to pave the way for peace to return and script a new story of growth and coexistence. Few frustrated former militants must not be allowed to hold BTR ransom to unending hostilities. None can be allowed to sabotage peace in BTR, and the Assam police need to act fast to trace every single illicit arm to prevent extremism and gun violence raising their ugly heads once again in the state.