Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and North East Democratic Alliance convenor and Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma during the swearing-in ceremony of the new Bodoland Territorial Council in Kokrajhar on 15 December 2020. | Photo: ANI
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and North East Democratic Alliance convenor and Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma during the swearing-in ceremony of the new Bodoland Territorial Council in Kokrajhar on 15 December 2020. | Photo: ANI

Guwahati: The Bharatiya Janata Party’s coalition with regional United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) and Gana Shakti Party (GSP) Thursday won the floor test in the autonomous Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).

In the 40-seat tribal council of the Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR), 22 elected members supported the coalition, which is led by UPPL chief Pramod Bodo.

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However, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), BJP’s ally in the state government that it dumped in the BTC polls earlier this month, is dissatisfied with the proceedings, and its chief Hagrama Mohilary has decided to move court alleging that the pro tem Speaker did not follow court guidelines.

Mohilary’s decision comes just a week after he filed a writ petition in the Gauhati High Court challenging the constitutional validity of the BTC appointments — UPPL president Pramod Boro as the chief executive and Gobinda Basumatary as the deputy chief executive, among others.

These developments signal not just a total breakdown of the partnership between BJP and its regional alliance partner BPF, but also tell a story of ambition, “betrayal” and vengeance in the Bodo heartland, spanning years.

According to Assam BJP chief Ranjeet Kumar Dass, the party executed a “blueprint” it had created three years ago — dumping ally BPF in the BTC elections, and forging a post-poll alliance with UPPL and GSP. The outcome led former BTC chief Hagrama Mohilary to concede defeat after being in power for 17 years — since the council’s formation in 2003.

“BJP has been betrayed by BPF from the very start in the name of alliance. There isn’t one, but many instances to prove that. The way they fooled the Congress once, they thought they could fool us too,” Dass told ThePrint.

In 2016, the BJP formed its first government in Assam with the help of BPF, which has 12 seats in the assembly. The BJP, with 60 seats, however, also has an alliance with Asom Gana Parishad (14) to have a comfortable majority in the 126-member Assam assembly. The BPF has three ministers in the Sonowal cabinet.


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Why did BJP get rid of BPF?

It was no surprise when the BJP decided to show BPF the doors in the BTC polls — the national party had been campaigning heavily against its ally in BTR areas alleging corruption and misgovernance in the council.

But it was BPF’s denial of the third Bodo Accord — signed by the Centre and the Assam government with the four factions of the insurgent group National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) on 27 January — that set the party back.

With the signing of the accord, the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts comprising the four districts of Udalguri, Chirang, Kokrajhar and Baksa was rechristened BTR. The BPF refused to accept this.

“BJP is very much sincere in establishing permanent peace in BTC areas. During Modi and Sonowal’s regime, we are trying to give it a permanent shape. That’s why we got together with all the stakeholders when the BTR treaty was signed,” said senior BJP leader Lakhya Konwar, who is also the general secretary of the Assam Olympic Association.

“But days before the BTC election was announced, Hagrama seemed to be pulling out of the treaty — in pure violation of the spirit of the accord. It was then that BJP workers felt we should be a major force in BTC,” he added.

However, Dass said the blueprint against BPF was prepared much earlier in 2017, when the party refused to comply with the BJP’s request for nominating its lone Member Council of Legislative Assembly to the BTC executive committee.

“Since we included three from the BPF as ministers, we asked Hagrama to appoint the MCLA as an EM, but he refused. They called the MCLA a thief. It was that day that we decided we would start a movement in BTAD,” said Dass.

Senior BPF leader Pramila Rani Brahma, who is also a minister in the Assam cabinet, termed Dass’ allegations “a bunch of lies”.

“It is not that without them we wouldn’t have won the 12 seats. From only 5 seats in the assembly in 2011, they could win so many seats in 2016 only because of Hagrama Mohilary. We gave them everything,” Brahma told ThePrint.

Dass, however, noted that the BPF put up candidates against the BJP in the 2016 assembly elections, and also during panchayat polls in 2018, thereby helping AIUDF win. Konwar alleged that during the BTC polls too, BPF secretly aligned with AIUDF and Congress.


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Will the BJP-BPF alliance remain intact next year?

The results for the two-phased BTC polls gave the BJP a big leap in the region, with the party bagging nine out of 40 seats, and forming a coalition with UPPL (12) and the GSP (1). The BPF won 17 but still fell four short of the majority mark.

After the election, the three BPF members in the Sarbananda Sonowal cabinet said they would not resign from their posts. Minister and senior BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma said the alliance would remain intact “until the elections”.

“There might be a different scenario for 2021, that call will be taken by national leadership in due course of time,” said Konwar.

Political analyst Shyamkanu Mahanta said the BTC is a “very tricky place and is to be handled with a lot of maturity” as “any wrong venture by any political front might create instability in the area”.

“The Bodoland Territorial Region has an interesting history. Nobody wants violence in BTC again. Hagrama Mohilary has a strong say in the Bodo community and Bodos are not only in the BTC areas of Assam, they play a role in many other constituencies, especially in Sonitpur district, Golaghat, Karbi Anglong areas. Hagrama helped Congress in 2006, 2011, 2014 and 2016. So, the Bodo vote is important for BJP,” said Mahanta, adding that the BJP will try to take both Hagrama and Pramod together.

“The reason why the BJP wants UPPL is because they want the BTR Accord, which is their brainchild to be implemented through Pramod Bodo, who also has the support of the NDFB factions. Hagrama was not in support of this. So, for BJP, BTC local politics is with UPPL,” he said.

Mahanta added that the BJP will try to take Hagrama along as an ally too, but the latter might go independent and bide his time to do well in assembly elections and then bargain with either the BJP or the Congress.

“If we align with BPF, the main spirit of BJP will be dumped. Moreover, the true spirit of BTR treaty has been carried out only by UPPL in the election campaign. They seem to be really interested in permanent peace in Bodoland. Pramod Bodo addressed the non-Bodos, and it is for the first time that any Bodo leader did this,” added Konwar.


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