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Ever since the clashes between Bodos and migrant Muslim groups in 2008, Kokrajhar, the seat of administration of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), has held an uneasy peace. Trouble had been brewing for the last few weeks, after minority student unions and non-Bodo tribes began pressing their demand for greater representation in the BTC. After the July 6 shooting of two Muslim youths, suspicion had been directed at the now-defunct Bodoland Liberation Tigers (BLT) and four of its members were killed, touching off full-scale rioting. More than 40 lives have been lost and nearly 1.7 lakh people displaced. The army has finally been called in, but crucial time may have been lost because of the state government's inability or unwillingness to read the warning signs.
The area under the BTC's jurisdiction has seen undercurrents of tension even after the Bodo Accord of 2003. The Bodo movement has its roots in the agitation against tribal land being acquired by immigrants. Land is a fundamental issue in the region that remains unresolved. On the other side of the divide, the minorities and non-Bodo tribes allege discrimination in political representation, since the BTC structure has given a larger say to the Bodos. Over the years, this power-sharing arrangement has appeared to rest on increasingly unstable ground. Finally, the Bodo Accord failed to ensure a round-up of the arms of the erstwhile BLT. Still in circulation, they sharpen the edges of the already fragile equations between groups.
Both the state and the Union governments appear to have misread and mismanaged the situation in a district that has witnessed large-scale clashes in 1993, 1994, 1996 and as recently as 2008. While the 1996 violence between the Bodos and Adivasis saw 200 people killed and 2.2 lakh rendered homeless, Bodo and immigrant Muslims clashed in the other three instances, taking a toll of over 100 deaths in 1994 and then again in 2008. Not only would these clashes spread to neighbouring districts in the Lower Assam region, but the geographical location of Kokrajhar has always threatened to give the unrest a more ominous fallout. Kokrajhar, after all, is the landlocked Northeast's narrow passage to mainland India through the "chicken's neck". If the current trouble had been anticipated and adequate and visible security provided for at the first sign of trouble, the Northeast would not have been virtually cut off from the country.
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