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