- Time for Delhi to look inwards
Indian army operation to neutralise G Bidai, vice-president of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) and his group consisting of about 20 cadres, is still on near Indo-Bhutan border. Prolongation of the operation has raised questions and doubts about its failure. Bidai’s gang had been dodging the security forces continuously for the last one decade. In September 2015, a joint operation involving Indian army, police and paramilitary was followed by a similar exercise four months later. On every occasion, the group succeeded in jumping across the porous border to hideouts in Bhutan which were beyond the reach of the security forces.
Who is G. Bidai, what is the NDFB and what are the implications of Indian security forces failure to apprehend the “dreaded militant” and his band?
According to Indian media, NDFB is a secessionist ethnic insurgent organisation demanding an independent state for the Bodo ethnic group in Assam. Formed on October 3, 1986, and led by Chairman Ranjan Daimary, this is one of the most dreaded outfits of Northeast India and one that shared close ties with the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). The group’s strength has dwindled since the 2003 operations in Bhutan. The group indulges in guerilla tactics of hit and run operations on security forces and explosions in public places. The original name of the group was the Bodo Security Force (BSF). The Bodos, a primitive tribe who are mostly either Hindus or Christians, account for about 10 percent of Assam’s 26 million people and live in the western and northern parts of the state.
The President of NDFB is B. Saoraigwra, the Vice President, as mentioned earlier is G. Bidai while the General Secretary is B.R. Ferrenga.
India’s north-eastern region comprises seven states namely Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, and is home to more than 200 insurgent groups. Some of the demands of these insurgent groups are similar such as preservation of local culture, local language and jobs for local people. Some of their demands are totally different as some groups demanded separate states within the Indian Union; some demanded autonomy whereas some demanded independence from India. These groups are engaged in violent clashes with the Indian army because of the discriminatory attitude of the Indian government towards them. When the Indian government starts crackdown operations against them, the members of these groups flee to neighboring countries such as Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar to their safe havens. The question arises that why so many groups are operative in just seven states of India. The answer lies in the negligence of the Indian government towards the region and its strategy of handling the unrest in the northeast.
A widely visible characteristic of northeast India is its economic under-development. The region is one of the most backward in India. Abject poverty of locals alienated them from the Indian government. The north-eastern region has poverty levels ranging between 42-58 percent. As the region was economically isolated from the rest of the country during the colonial period, it did not benefit from the process of industrialisation and modernisation. After independence, the Indian government also did not take any serious steps towards the development of the region. Instead, the Indian government has exploited the natural and mineral resources of the region without benefiting its people in any way. The north-eastern region is rich in natural and mineral resources such as forests, oil and gas. Despite these natural endowments, the region is industrially backward because of low investment from the public sector.
In a nutshell, India is facing potential as well as actual separatist movements in northeast India. Instead of addressing the real causes of insurgency in the northeast, the Indian government is maintaining India’s unity mainly through the use of force. The Indian counter-insurgency in the northeast depends on the deploying of the security forces. The Indian government has given the security forces vast powers to maintain law and order by implementing repressive laws such as Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) and Disturbed Areas Act (DAA). Torture and bad treatment are strictly prohibited by the Indian constitution in all circumstances but still human rights abuses by the security forces are continuously reported in the whole northeast. The atrocities of the Indian troops acting under the umbrella of draconian laws are reminiscent of the situation in Indian Occupied Kashmir.
The objectives of NDFB are based on their main grievances which comprise the under-development in the region and the influx of immigrants. It aims to address these issues by seceding from India, and establishing a sovereign Boroland. The NDFB constitution, adopted on 10 March 1998, lists its objectives as the following:
- Liberate Boroland from the Indian expansionism and occupation;
- Free the Boro nation from the colonialist exploitation, oppression and domination;
- Establish a Democratic Socialist Society to promote Liberty, Equality and Fraternity; and
- Uphold the integrity and sovereignty of Boroland
The promotion of the Roman script for the Bodo language is also a significant objective of NDFB and is against the use of Devanagri script for the language.
Bhutan has been a boon for some rebel groups in the Northeast. The first camp in the kingdom was set up by the Bodo Security Force (later rechristened as NDFB) in 1989 across Udalguri in Assam which was followed by the entry of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) two years later. By the mid-90s, there were around ten camps belonging to these groups and the Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) which was active in north Bengal.
The region is also the gateway to the North Eastern Region of India, where one of the main students organisation, All Bodo Students Union (ABSU), allied with NDFB, People’s Joint Action Committee for Boroland Movement (PJACBM) which is an amalgamation of over three dozen Bodo organisations and its supporters are demanding independence from the government of India that a separate state (within the Indian Union) be created comprising the seven districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa, Udalguri, Sonitpur, Lakhimpur and Dhemaji of Assam which have a significant Bodo population. On the other hand, it is also claimed as a sovereign state (complete independence) by the separatist insurgent group NDFB.
The Bodoland movement is similar to the story of Mizoram and the Mizo National Front except that the latter was granted full-fledged statehood with special powers and MNF agreeing to give up secessionist struggle, the former has not yet had such a happy ending and the region continues to be extremely sensitive.
India refuses to accept the fact that it is facing more than twenty two insurgencies which threaten the very fabric of its sovereignty. Instead of dealing with them rationally, it uses brute force to suppress them and blame its neighbours for exploiting the independence seekers. It is high time India looked inwards and accepts its own shortcomings rather than blame foreign elements.