Dismissing claims by his detractors that the ethnic violence in lower Assam was a fallout of infiltration from Bangladesh, chief minister Tarun Gogoi said Muslims in Bodoland are Indian citizens and not Bangladeshis. He said the tussle over land between Bodos and non-Bodos is the main reason behind the clashes.
Gogoi on Friday assured that the non-tribal people in the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD) tribal belt who have been displaced and are staying in relief camps will not lose the land they have left behind.
"The non-tribals living in the Bodo tribal belt will continue to enjoy their land rights as before," Gogoi said, clearly indicating that bone of contention in the clash was land.
"The conflict is actually conflict of interest over land. BJP is giving a communal colour to it. It is not communal. There are no Bangladeshis in the clash but Indian citizens," he said.
Generally, land in a tribal belt cannot be owned by anyone else but tribals. The Bodo Accord that was signed in 2003 departs from this practice. "There is a special provision in the Bodo Accord which allows non-tribals living in the tribal belt to have land rights. We want the Bodos to develop and move forward, but there is a large number of non-tribals in the BTAD area. This provision in the Accord can be altered only by a new Act," the chief minister said.
He also agreed to protect the land rights of the tribals (read Bodos), who have fled their homes and land in the neighbouring minority-dominated and non-tribal Dhubri district. "No one's land will be taken away. I will ensure that the land rights of the tribals in the non-tribal district are protected even if there is no law to protect them," Gogoi said. There are reports of Muslims occupying villages abandoned by Bodos in Dhubri district.
For the state government, the biggest challenge now is to send the people from relief camps back to their homes. "We have to build confidence among the people so that they return home without fear. A few people are starting to return home but panic exodus is still continuing," Gogoi said.
The number of people fleeing their homes has swelled, forcing authorities to set up more relief camps. "At the moment, we have 270 relief camps and there are 3.92 lakh people in them," chief minister Tarun Gogoi said. There were 211 relief camps and 1.7 lakh inmates on Wednesday. On Thursday, the number of camps went up to 228, while the inmates were nearly three lakh. Gogoi said the large exodus is fuelled by rumours.
The Bodos, who are the biggest tribal group among the 23 notified tribes of the state, have clashed with Muslims and Adivasis five times in the last 60 years and all the conflicts have been based on land sharing. The conflicts may have subsided but the mistrust between the groups continues to remain, which does not put to rest the possibility of clashes in future. The Bodos hardened their stand to attain a separate identity but the other co-existing communities are apprehensive of losing their land.
The non-tribal land owners in the BTAD area comprise Assamese, Koch-Rajbongshis, Adivasis, Nepalis and religion-wise, Muslims.