SPLIT IN THE BODO VOTE?
India Today|April 12, 2021
The BPF has a strong presence in Assam’s Bodoland Territorial Region, but it might face its toughest competition yet in ally-turned-rival BJP
Kaushik Deka

Since 2006, one political party, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), has been a part of every coalition government in Assam. Formed in 2005, it shared power with the Congress between 2006 and 2016. Just before the assembly poll in 2016, it dumped its former ally and joined hands with the BJP. In February this year, the party took a U-turn to be part of the Congress-led ‘Mahajath’, a pre-poll alliance of eight parties. Though now with the Congress, the BPF’s unannounced policy to be part of the power structure at the Centre and in the state makes it the most unpredictable kingmaker in Assam’s politics. The party, which has been sweeping the election in the state’s Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) for the past three assembly polls, can switch sides, depending on what is up for bargain.

Hence the 12 seats in BTR will likely determine who has the last laugh on May 2, when the results of Assam’s 126 assembly seats will be declared. Seen through a demographic prism, the Mahajath seems invincible. The BPF has a strong support base among Bodos, who account for around 30 per cent of BTR’s population. The Muslims in the region make up another 15 per cent—by unofficial estimate—and have traditionally backed the Congress and AIUDF. This time, the Congress-led alliance has fielded only BPF candidates in these 12 seats, in a bid to consolidate the vote share of all the three parties.

In the previous two assembly polls, the BPF, on an average, got over 45 per cent of the votes polled in these seats. The combined vote share of the Congress, BPF and AIUDF in the BTR is around 70 per cent. While this looks like the perfect demographic electoral equation to provide the BPF a smooth run in the assembly poll, the party is facing its stiffest challenge ever, primarily because of a split in its core vote bank—the Bodos. This split has been engineered by its former ally, the BJP, which was getting wary of the BPF’s dominance in the BTR.

The beginning of the rift between the two allies began in February last year when the BJP-led Union government signed the third Bodo Accord. Union home minister Amit Shah described it as “the final and comprehensive solution” to the Bodo problem. For more than half a century, the Bodos, the largest plains tribe in Assam accounting for nearly 6 per cent of the state’s population, have been demanding either a separate state or a separate country to protect their ethnocultural identity. The first Bodo Accord was signed in 1993 between the Centre, the state and the leaders of the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) and Bodo People’s Action Committee.

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