Ranjan Daimary 49, chairman of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), sits in the Sessions Court in Guwahati waiting for another hearing where the state has produced a new witness. His sister Anjali, president of the Bodo Women’s Justice Forum and one of the conveners of the Bodo National Conference (BNC), and lawyer Manas Sarania keep him company as they wait for the judge. Outside the court, the media has gathered to get a glimpse of the ‘terrorist’ leader. After 24 years of violence in northern Assam over the Bodoland demand the people now want peace. And Daimary holds the key to that peace. A glimmer of hope had come with the formation of the Bodo Autonomous Council (BAC) in 1993. Three of the four NDFB factions came together to the negotiating table. But the one led by Daimary, continued their armed struggle. Blood continued to spill in the state, as witnessed in the 2008 serial blasts in Assam that left a 100 dead and 400 injured, and more recently on 8 November 2010, when innocent people travelling by bus were shot and killed. B Jwangkhang, deputy commander-in-chief of the outfit, had stated earlier: “One innocent Bodo will be equal to 20 Indians or maybe more.” Daimary was arrested last year in Bangladesh for his involvement in the 2008 serial blasts. Jwangkhang was held in Mizoram six months ago. The group had declared a six-month unilateral ceasefire that ended last week (30 June). An uneasy peace prevails in the Bodo hills; no one knows what will happen next. But, what cannot be denied is the shift in the group’s stance—from guns to negotiations. In an exclusive interview to TEHELKA, Daimary and his deputyJwangkhang tell Avalok Langer what they want from the government and what the future holds for Bodoland. Excerpts from the interview:
After years of armed violence, you have finally warmed to the idea of talks with the government. Why this shift of stance? Many feel it is because you have lost your safe haven in Bhutan and Bangladesh and are now on the back foot?
Jwangkhang: We may have lost our bases in Bhutan but we have a lot of foreign supporters who will readily help us, we can go anywhere. It would be a mistake to think that we are opting for political dialogue because we are weak. The people want talks, so we will talk.
Daimary: Many of our boys are still in Bangladesh and Burma; we are not opting for talk because we have been pushed out of Bhutan. We are respecting the wishes of the Bodo people and the BNC that is all. We want what is in their best interest. If the government wants to talk, we will talk. Otherwise, jail is fine, I am proud to be in jail for my cause.
The Bodoland demand has gone from statehood to sovereignty, then back to statehood under the ‘pro-talk’ faction. What is your group, the so-called ‘anti–talks’ faction, demanding?
Daimary: Before we talk of our present demand, it is important to understand that the Bodo movement has a long history. Historically, the Bodos were the master race, the rulers of this region. However, years of oppression and discrimination have stunted our aspirations. The demand for Bodoland is not new, the idea of a Bodo state dates back to 1967. But for years the government had ignored our democratic, peaceful movement. In the late 1980s, frustration gave way to a more ferocious people’s movement. We are fighting for the historical rights and aspirations of the Bodo community and at present are faced with many possible options — sovereignty, statehood, union territory or even an honourable solution. But this is a people’s movement and our final demand will be decided by the people.
The United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) demanded that the leadership be released from jail to hold talks with the Central government. Is that your first demand too?
Daimary: We cannot talk from jail. So yes, that would be the first step. We want to be released so we can talk freely to the Bodo people and understand their hopes, aspirations and what they want. This is not just about what the NDFB wants. We want to talk to all Bodo groups, BNC, Bodo civil societies and the people, so that we can resolve the problem and reach a sustainable, long-term solution.
I understand your final demand will be shaped by the mandate of the people. But as a leader of the Bodo People’s Movement, having spent so many years fighting for a ‘cause’, what is your personal vision for the Bodos?
Daimary: I envision a homeland, a place where we as a people can live embracing our values and traditions.
When you say ‘homeland’, are you implying sovereignty?
Daimary: A Bodo homeland within the Indian Constitution is a possibility. However, a lot depends on the government’s approach and if that is found wanting, we will look outside the Constitution.
Is there any place for violence at a time when the people want peace and your organisation is approaching the government for talks? Since the BNC has requested you to extend the unilateral ceasefire which ends today (30 June 2011), will you?
Daimary: For six months we maintained a unilateral ceasefire, as a demonstration of support to the people’s desire for peace and our willingness to talk. However, the government of India has not reciprocated this gesture. They have continued to target, and kill our boys. The government needs to show more sincerity. I cannot say if our leadership (the ones that are still underground, and out of jail) will extend the ceasefire, I am afraid that they are having second thoughts after seeing the government’s response. But I feel they should.
Many feel that the NDFB has been thrown into a leadership crisis after your arrest. It is believed that there is a growing disconnect between you and the group. If you call for peace, will the cadres listen?
Daimary: If I am released on bail, I can contact them and control them, they will listen to me. The government must realise that without leadership, the situation can become dangerous.
Jwangkhang: If we collectively decide to enter into political dialogue, there will be no problem. Everyone will be on board. There is no leadership crisis in the group. Everyone respects our chairman Ranjan Daimary and will listen to him.
Jwangkhang says there is no leadership crisis. Daimary’s word is still respected
Given the bad blood between the two factions of the NDFB, do you think reconciliation will be possible?
Daimary: Reconciliation is already under way with the guidance of the BNC. Nothing is impossible. The world is changing and we need to change with it. There is a lot that we can learn from what is happening in the Arab world about togetherness and people’s power.
What is your message to your people?
Daimary: My message is simple. I want the Bodo people to rally around our struggle now more than ever.
Do you have something to say to the Indian government?
Daimary: There is no military solution to a political problem. They have killed us for 25 years, we have killed them, but nothing has come of it. The solution will come through talks and political dialogue. The government needs to understand this and take positive steps.
Avalok Langer is a Correspondent with Tehelka.