Real test for former rebels in BTC elections
DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
The third elections to the 40-member Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) are being held on April 8. Ever since the BTC Accord was signed in February 2003, former Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) leader Hagrama Mohilary has been heading the Council, first as an interim chief and then winning the elections two times in a row.
For the first time since its formation, Mohilary’s party, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), has been facing a stiff challenge. The anti-incumbency wave against the BPF is largely driven by corruption charges against the administration, a poor security situation, and the ibility of the leadership to maintain social cohesion. These are charges the BPF leadership will have to surmount in the days ahead if it has to come with up a repeat performance at the hustings.
The polls are critical because they are being held at a time when the ruling Congress in Assam has filly shed its ambiguous position towards the BTC and its former ally, the BPF, and have decided to contest the polls after a long hiatus. The Congress workers in Kokrajhar and the Council area in general have been a demoralized lot but with the party’s decision to contest the polls this time, they are getting back their enthusiasm. This may make a big difference because the Council’s 20 lakh voters will be presented with a fresh option to choose from because they earlier mainly had only the Bodoland People’s Progressive Front (BPPF) as an altertive.
The April 8 polls will be a real test for Mohilary & Co. also because of the precedent during the last Lok Sabha elections of non-Bodos voting almost en bloc in favour of the non-Bodo candidate Hira Sarania who got elected as MP. Such a voting behaviour came about largely because of repeated attacks of non-Bodos by Bodo miscreants, particularly the murderous raids on the migrant Muslim settler population. Sarania’s victory proved that if the non-Bodos got together, they could actually make a huge difference in the poll result and defeat candidates of predomintly Bodo-domited political parties in the area. Whether this trend is going to be repeated in any way at the Council polls is left to be seen.
The fact that the State authorities have deployed more than 100 companies of central paramilitary forces besides the Assam Police is an indication of the volatile security situation in the BTC area. The Songbijit faction of the NDFB is slightly on the back-foot in view of the sustained counter-insurgency offensive in the past three months, but with the polls drawing near, the terror outfit may strike to prove its strength. Besides, what needs to be watched closely is the stand of the NDFB-S in so far as the elections are concerned. If the terror group decides to back certain individual candidates, the situation could deteriorate.
What is without doubt is that the polls will be held under the shadow of the gun. Although the Centre is engaged in so-called peace talks with two factions of the NDFB, the area is known for its abundant illegal weapons that are in use. Repeated promises by the authorities to have the illegal weapons seized have failed. Once again, there is some thinking aloud by the law enforcing authorities that there would be a crackdown on illegal weapons now that the polls to the BTC have been announced. The results remain to be seen.