The success of the Centre in involving the Songbijit faction of the Bodoland group in the peace talks is crucial, as this faction is regarded as the most dreaded organisation in the region after the anti-talks faction of the ULFA.
New Delhi: With more and more insurgent groups from the Northeast joining peace talks with Government of India, the region has been witnessing a drastic decline in insurgency in the last five years. The recent signing of the third Bodo peace accord more or less marks the end of the dreaded three-decade-old Bodo insurgency in Assam. The success of the Central government in bringing the Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-S) on board for the peace talks is crucial, as NDFB-S is regarded as the most dreaded organisation in the region after the anti-talks faction of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), popularly known as ULFA-Independent (ULFA-I). Here’s some history and profiles of the present insurgent groups.
END OF BODO INSURGENCY
The Bodo insurgency, which started in 1986 with the demand for a sovereign Bodo country has gone through many internal factionalisms that started mainly after the 2003 military crackdown by the Royal Bhutanese Army in all its major camps in Bhutan. Following this, the NDFB announced a unilateral ceasefire in 2004. However, a formal ceasefire agreement between NDFB and the government was signed on 25 May 2005. Differences widened in NDFB following the expulsion of its founder president, Ranjan Daimary, alias D.R. Nabla, for his involvement in the 30 October 2008 serial explosions in Guwahati. On 15 December 2008, the NDFB replaced Ranjan Daimary with B. Sungthagra alias Dhiren Boro, as its new president and expelled Ranjan Daimary. This resulted in a visible rift in the NDFB-pro talks faction led by Dhiren Boro and the hardliner group led by Ranjan Daimary (NDFB-R).
While the anti-talks faction of NDFB carried on with its disruptive activities, it received a big blow when its leader Ranjan Daimary was arrested in Bangladesh and later handed over to the Indian authorities on 1 May 2010. Later, Daimary too agreed for peace talks and his faction signed a ceasefire agreement with the Central government in 2013.
It was from this hardline faction of NDFB that the Songbijit faction was formed and was headed by I.K. Songbijit in 2012. Songbijit was the earlier “chief” of the Bodoland Army (the armed wing of NDFB-R). A nine-member “interim national council” was formed on 20 November 2012, with Songbijit as its self-proclaimed “interim president”. He immediately called off the 2011 unilateral ceasefire declared by NDFB-R and emerged as the most lethal group. His group has carried out many dreaded attacks on civilians, including the 2014 massacre of 66 Adivasis in Bodo-dominated areas. For their brutality, the government had rejected their offer of ceasefire in 2016.
It has been a remarkable success story of the Narendra Modi 2.0 government in bringing this most dreaded insurgent group to the mainstream because with the joining of the NDFB-S, almost all major insurgent outfits in Assam are either part of the peace process or in ceasefire with the government. These include Adivasi Cobra Force (ACF) also known as Adivasi Cobra Military of Assam (ACMA), Adivasi People’s Army (APA), All Adivasi National Liberation Army (AANLA), Birsa Commando Force (BCF), Kuki Liberation Army (KLA), Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF), Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA), National Santhal Liberation Army (NSLA), pro-talks faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA-PTF), pro-talks faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-PTF), Santhal Tiger Force (STF), United Kukigram Defence Army (UKDA) and the Ranjan Daimary faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-R).
Thus, the only major groups that are still active and carrying out their militant activities in Assam are ULFA-I, Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), Peoples’ Democratic Council of Karbi Longri (PDCK), Rabha National Liberation Front (RLNF), Dimasa National Liberation Army (DNLA), Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA) and Tiwa Liberation Army. According to media reports, most of these organisations are almost defunct on the ground, except ULFA-I, which still has a cadre base of around 200-300.
UNITED LIBERATION FRONT OF ASOM (ULFA)
Based in Myanmar, the ULFA is the oldest insurgent group in Assam. It was formed in 1979 with the demand for a separate country. With a strong cadre base, ULFA was the strongest insurgent organisation in the state and enjoyed popular support across. However, due to its mindlessly violent campaign, ULFA’s support base has witnessed a major decline over the years. Also, Operation Bajrang (27 November-10 June 1991) and Operation Rhino (15 September 1991-13 January 1992) by the Indian Army, targeting the outfit and its facilities in Assam, forced the ULFA leadership to seek refuge in Bangladesh.
After the Awami League came to power in Bangladesh in December 2008, ULFA’s base in that country started getting destroyed as the Sheikh Hasina-led government started taking action against ULFA and other similar Indian organisations operating from their soil. This resulted in the arrest of top leaders of the ULFA, except for commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah, towards the end of 2009.
Subsequently, Bangladeshi authorities handed over top ULFA leaders to the Indian authorities. All the top leaders, including chairman Arobindo Rajkhowa, general secretary Anup Chetia, vice-chairman Pradip Gogoi, publicity chief Mithinga Daimary, deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah, finance secretary Chitraban Hazarika, foreign secretary Sasadhar Choudhury, cultural secretary Pranati Deka were released on bail to facilitate the peace talks. However, ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah did not agree to the peace talks until and unless the question of sovereignty was addressed and declared that he would continue with his fight for a sovereign Assam.
Though the Central government is expected to sign an accord with the pro talks ULFA faction soon, the material gain of the move is still doubtful as ULFA-I still has more than 200 members and is getting stronger in the state in the wake of the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act as per media reports.
KAMATAPUR LIBERATION ORGANISATION (KLO)
Another organisation which still has some minor relevance in Assam is the Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), which came into existence in 1995 with the demand for a separate Kamatapur state comprising six districts of West Bengal and four districts of Assam. According to South Asian Terrorism portal, KLO operates very closely with the ULFA, NDFB and some Naga militant organisations such as NDFB. However, media reports suggest that with the arrest of most of its top leaders, KLO is not much active in the state at present.