Will the Bodoland council follow the beaten track?
A CONCEPT that did not click in the hills of the Northeast has now been prescribed for the plains of the region. On December 1, the Union government inked a purportedly historic tripartite pact with the Bodo Liberation Tigers and the Assam government to create an autonomous, self-governing Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). The banned National Democratic Front of Bodoland, though, did not join negotiations.
The 46-member council will cover 3,082 villages that would be divided into four districts. Thirty seats on the council will be reserved for Bodos, five for non-tribals and five for both Bodos and non-Bodos. The Assam government will nominate the remaining six. Unlike the earlier Bodoland Autonomous Territory Accord, which was signed a decade ago, the latest agreement envisages the proposed council being empowered under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. An annual financial sop of Rs 100 crore for the next five years has also been sanctioned for development works.
It is ironic that this formula closely resembles the ones that have flopped in the hill areas. In fact, if the new BTC follows in the footsteps of existing district councils under the Sixth Schedule, the region's future may well be shaped on the lines of its strife-torn past. That the Union government itself is not convinced about the schedule's efficacy is evident from a two-year-old bumbling constitutional review of the same.
The schedule has been used more to buy peace while co-opting tribes into the national mainstream than to take development to their doorstep. As a result, there is simmering discontent in the hills. A case in point is the conflict between the inefficient district councils of the Khasi hills and the crumbling traditional governing structure of syiems, nokmas and dolois in Meghalaya. The defunct Regional Council of Nagaland also typifies the negative trend. Despite this, if a feel-good factor is associated with the scheduled areas, it is because the regions were in far worse shape earlier. But the path to development for all communities that live by the land is to sustain themselves off the land.
The Union government is mistaken in the belief that doles will create a sustainable economy for the Bodos. The crisis has only been postponed, not resolved.