Fray­ing Al­liance

The BJP’s friend­ship with for­mer mil­i­tants runs into rough weather

India Today - - STATES - By Kaushik Deka

It couldn’t be going bet­ter for As­sam chief min­is­ter Sar­bananda Sonowal. He had just com­pleted a year in of­fice, and the cel­e­bra­tions to mark the an­niver­sary were made ex­tra sweet by the pres­ence of Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, who ad­dressed a mega rally in Guwa­hati and in­au­gu­rated the long­est river bridge in the coun­try at Dhola, over the Brahma­pu­tra. Trou­ble erupted a week later, on June 2.

That Friday, Ha­grama Mo­hi­lary, pres­i­dent of the Bodoland Peo­ple’s Front (BPF), which is an ally of the BJP govern­ment in As­sam, told me­di­a­per­sons in Guwa­hati that the saf­fron party was bul­ly­ing him to toe its line with threats of “neg­a­tive elec­toral con­se­quences” in the 2019 Lok Sabha elec­tions. “The BJP has asked me to en­sure that it be­comes strong in the BTAD (Bodoland Ter­ri­to­rial Au­ton­o­mous Dis­tricts) ar­eas,” Mo­hi­lary said. “If I don’t do that, it will en­sure that no BPF can­di­date can win the next Lok Sabha polls. The BJP is in power; their lead­ers are dan­ger­ous. They can do any­thing.”

BPF, which has 10 mem­bers in the As­sam assem­bly and two min­is­ters in the cab­i­net, is the rul­ing party of the Bodoland Ter­ri­to­rial Coun­cil (BTC), which has been con­sti­tuted to ad­min­is­ter the four Bodo-dom­i­nated dis­tricts of Kokra­jhar, Chi­rang, Baksa and Udal­guri. The BTC is an au­ton­o­mous body formed in 2013 un­der Sched­ule VI of the Con­sti­tu­tion. The BPF has held sway in the BTC ever since its in­cep­tion in 2003, win­ning three con­sec­u­tive elec­tions. In 2015, the BJP

man­aged to win just one seat against the BPF’s 20 in the 40-mem­ber coun­cil. The area has one Lok Sabha con­stituency—Kokra­jhar—that the BPF lost to an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date in 2014.

Still smart­ing from that de­feat, Mo­hi­lary now faces a ‘threat’ from his own ally, which wants him to al­low the BJP to grow at the cost of his own party. The for­mer mil­i­tant, who headed the in­sur­gent Bodoland Lib­er­a­tion Tigers group be­fore sur­ren­der­ing in 2003, lev­elled an­other se­ri­ous charge against the BJP. “BJP work­ers are tak­ing Rs 5,000-10,000 from poor peo­ple, promis­ing them houses un­der the PM Awas Yo­jana,” he said on cam­era.

Th­ese al­le­ga­tions cre­ated a stir in the state as they came a week af­ter BJP leader Ni­ran­jan Ho­jai and two oth­ers were sen­tenced to life im­pris­on­ment by an NIA court on May 22 in the Rs 1,000 crore Dima Hasao case, in which devel­op­ment funds for the dis­trict had been si­phoned off to fund ter­ror. The BJP’s friend­ship with for­mer mil­i­tants has run into rough weather in re­cent times. Ho­jai was a mem­ber of the Dima Hasao Dis­trict Coun­cil, which runs Dima Hasao, an­other au­ton­o­mous dis­trict.

How­ever, the BJP brass are re­luc­tant to ac­cept Mo­hi­lary’s state­ment and Ho­jai’s con­vic­tion will have any im­pact on the party’s ‘zero-tol­er­ance’ cam­paign against cor­rup­tion. “We have sacked Ho­jai,” says As­sam fi­nance min­is­ter Hi­manta Biswa Sarma, who had stitched to­gether the coalition. “We’ll sort out our mis­un­der­stand­ing with BPF. There is no truth in Mo­hi­lary’s al­le­ga­tion as the BJP is not in power in BTAD ar­eas.”


ONE FOR THE CAM­ERA As­sam CM Sar­bananda Sonowal (left) with BPF chief Ha­grama Mo­hi­lary

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