On Sunday, March 14, Adivasi groups led by All Adivasi Students’ Association of Assam (AASAA), released a set of ten questions for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that is hoping to retain power in the state. Assam’s three-phased Assembly elections begin on March 27.
According to The Telegraph, AASAA released the following questions at the annual mahasabha at Halem in Biswanath district:
· Why did the BJP not act on its promise of granting ST status to the Adivasi/tea community?
· Why was the daily wage of tea garden workers not raised to Rs 351.33?
· Why land pattas were not distributed to the community?
· Why are LP & ME schools in tea garden areas not provincialised?
· What happened to the promise of setting up 100 residential schools in the tea belt?
· How can tea garden people survive with galloping price rise?
· What happened to plans to open ATMs in tea gardens?
· Where are the Adivasis in the sabka saath sabka vikas plan of the government?
· Why happened to the promise of bringing down the price of LPG cooking gas?
· Why will people vote for the BJP? For non-fulfilment of promises?
All of these questions indicate key factors that will decide how members of the community will vote. It is also noteworthy, that Adivasis including the tea-tribes are influential in 40 of the 126 constituencies. No party can afford to ignore their demands, given how their discontent has been simmering gradually over time.
The tea tribe, for instance, is still upset that the government only increased the daily wage from Rs 167 to Rs 217. Interestingly, the Congress has promised that if they come to power, they will raise the daily wage to Rs 365.
But it isn’t just the Adivasis and the tea tribes, the BJP could also lose the support of another key ethnic minority in the state – the Bodos. And for this, the BJP can only blame itself.
On February 27, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) announced that it was leaving the alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Assam. The following day, adding insult to injury, BPF formally joined the Congress-led grand alliance.
BPF president Hagrama Molihary made the announcement on Twitter saying, “To work for Peace, Unity and Development the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) has decided to join hands with MAHAJATH in the forthcoming Assam Assembly Election. We shall no longer maintain friendship or alliance with BJP.”
To work for Peace, Unity and Development the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) has decided to join hands with MAHAJATH in the forthcoming Assam Assembly Election. We shall no longer maintain friendship or alliance with BJP.
— Hagrama Mohilary (@HagramaOnline) February 27, 2021
This is a rather public slap in the face of the BJP that had come to power in Assam in 2016 with the help of the BPF. BJP had won 60 of the 126 seats, while its allies at that time, BPF won 12 and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) won 14.
But now the Congress is stitching together an alliance comprising All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), CPI, CPI (M), CPI (ML), and the Anchalik Gana Morcha. Recently, even the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has shown interest in contesting elections in the state as part of this grand alliance. The BPF has joined this alliance and will contest the 12 Assembly seats within the Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR).
BPF spokesperson and former Deputy Chief Executive Member of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) Khampa Borgoyar told Sentinel Assam, “In the BTR, we will field candidates in all the 12 seats which we won during the 2016 Assembly elections. There are many Bodo-populated LACs (Legislative Assembly Constituencies) outside the BTR. In these areas, the BPF will support the candidates of our ‘Mahajoot’ partners.” He further explained, “Seven LACs have 15,000-plus Bodo voters followed by nine LACs with 10,000-plus electors; and 10 LACs with around 10,000 Bodo electors. We will campaign for the ‘Mahajoot’ in all these areas.”
There is significant Bodo population in many other parts of the state such as Bihali, Bhawanipur, Bilasipara, Boko, Dhekiajuli, Dhemaji, Dudhnoi, East Sorbhog, Gauripur, Gohpur, Golaghat, and Rangapara as well.
Why did the BPF leave the BJP alliance?
The Bodos are an influential ethnic minority and have their own autonomous region within the state of Assam called Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) spread over the districts of Baksa, Chirang, Kokrajhar and Udalguri. The Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) that was established in 2003, is responsible for administration of the BTAD autonomous region.
Elections for 40 seats for the BTC were originally scheduled for 2020, but were put on hold in wake of the Coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown. After the five-year term of the BTC came to an end on April 27, Assam governor Jagdish Mukhi took over. This is because, the BTAD region falls under the purview of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and the governor assumed control as per provisions of section 2 of para 16 that deals with dissolution of regional councils. This provision states:
“If at any time the Governor is satisfied that a situation has arisen in which the administration of an autonomous district or region cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Schedule, he may, by public notification, assume to himself all or any of the functions or powers vested in or exercisable by the District Council or, as the case may be, the Regional Council and declare that such functions or powers shall be exercisable by such person or authority as he may specify in this behalf, for a period not exceeding six months: Provided that the Governor may by a further order or orders extend the operation of the initial order by a period not exceeding six months on each occasion.”
This imposition of governor’s rule did not go down well with the BPF that had instead sought a six-month extension of term given the Covid-19 crisis. But the BJP did not relent. After that, elections were rescheduled for December 2020. This is the time when the relationship between BPF and the BJP really began to sour. The BJP publicly dumped their longstanding allies, the BPF, and allied with the newly formed United Peoples’ Party Liberal (UPPL) led by former Bodo student leader Pramod Bodo, who is now Chief Executive Member of BTC after the BJP alliance wrested control of it. In the BTC elections of December 2020, BPF bagged 17 seats, just short of the half-way mark of 20 seats. Meanwhile, the BJP won 9 seats and UPPL bagged 12 seats, taking their tally to 21. Congress and Gana Shakti Party (GSP) led by Kokrajhar MP Naba Kumar Sarania, won one seat each.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, who is Assam Finance minister and convenor of BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), then openly said that the BJP was not inclined to contest the upcoming assembly elections in alliance with the BPF. This rejection still stings the BPF.
BPF leader Pramila Rani Brahma told India Today, “The BJP insulted us and repeatedly humiliated us — why should we think of them? Like a dog, they would feed us, keep us for their gains, but once the work was done, they chased us away.”