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Grievances of non-Bodo voters over land rights, ST status hold key in Assam’s Kokrajhar LS seat

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KOKRAJHAR, May 6: The brewing discontent over the absence of land rights and Scheduled Tribe (ST) status among non-Bodo voters could significantly sway the outcome in the Kokrajhar Lok Sabha constituency, situated within Assam’s Bodoland Territorial Region.

Despite being represented by Naba Kumar Sarania of the Gana Suraksha Party, the first non-Bodo MP from Kokrajhar, for two consecutive terms, these unmet demands of non-Bodo voters may affect his party’s poll fortune in the elections.

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Sarania’s nomination was rejected this time due to the cancellation of his ST status by the state government, a decision upheld by the Gauhati High Court.

His Gana Suraksha Party (GSP) fielded Binita Deka as an alternative arrangement.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) is vying to capitalise on absence of a ‘strong’ GSP candidate by projecting itself as the ‘alternative’, though the ruling force in BTR, United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL), and chief opposition Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) asserted that they enjoy the support of all sections of voters.

The Kokrajhar constituency, reserved for Scheduled Tribe (ST), will go to polls on May 7.

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“Two-time MP Naba Sarania had played the ‘non-Bodo card’ to win elections. We don’t want such political divisions as we all want to live as Assamese. But since we are living in the Sixth Schedule area, we are at times left with no option but to follow such divisive sentiments,” said Amrit Narayan Patgiri, a retired vice-principal of Basugaon Higher Secondary School.

He maintained that the non-Bodo people had rallied behind Sarania in the last two Lok Sabha elections as he had promised land rights and ST status for Koch-Rajbongshis and Adivasi communities but said that “the MP failed to keep any of his assurances”.

Lokenath Barman, a former school teacher, claimed that Sarania was taking advantage of a leadership void among the non-Bodo community.

“The Bodo community is politically conscious and their leaders have fought for their rights. Though we have a substantial population of non-Bodo communities like Koch-Rajbongshis and Adivasis, there is a lack of political awareness and coordination among leaders,” he said.

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Barman said that one of the reasons for Koch-Rajbongshis and Adivasis not getting ST status in the state could be that the Scheduled Tribe tag would make them eligible to contest polls in reserved category constituencies like Kokrajhar.

Patgiri and Barman are among many non-Bodo people who expressed disappointment over their unmet demands.

Even though he is not in the fray, Sarania was actively campaigning for the party’s candidate and claimed that it would be a hat-trick for the GSP.

“I am just a soldier in this political battle. I may be out of the race but the people who are suppressed by the ruling regime in BTR will continue supporting our candidate,” he said.

Patgiri and Barman, however, appreciated the 2020 Bodo peace accord for bringing in security and stability to the region, but maintained that “winning the trust of the non-Bodo people remains a challenge for the BTR leadership”.

The current Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) government was elected in 2020, post-signing of the accord, and is led by the UPPL-BJP coalition with Pramod Boro at the helm.

The BPF, led by Hagrama Mohilary, was previously in power in BTC since its formation in 2003.

“BPF and UPPL are political rivals and we try to remain neutral. But if these parties don’t accept non-Bodo community, though we are greater in numbers, and try to impose their decisions, the people of the other communities will resist and not accept these parties,” Patgiri, also a former journalist, said.

TMC state president Ripun Bora maintained that they are not into “non-Bodo politics played by Sarania” and claimed that the party would get support from all communities, adding that the non-Bodo community does aspire for more political power as people belonging to the community form the majority in BTR.

“Tribal reservation is needed, we don’t mind that. But more seats in the assembly and council can be given to non-tribals. Our main agenda is to decentralise political power without affecting the spirit of the Constitution,” Bora said.

The TMC reposed faith in Arun Kumar Sarania from Kokrajhar.

BTC chief Pramod Boro, however, claimed that GSP’s Sarania had won by spreading a “misconception” that the Bodo leadership discriminated against non-Bodo people.

Naba Kumar Sarania “failed to raise the concern of the non-Bodo community in the Lok Sabha”, while the UPPL-led BTC has started resolving the issues they were facing since Independence, Boro claimed, adding that this will translate into votes for the party candidate in the elections.

UPPL has fielded Jayanta Basumtary from the seat.

BPF leader and MLA Rabiram Narzary also accused Naba Kumar Sarania of playing ‘non-Bodo card’ and maintained that the people have seen through this politics.

“This non-Bodo factor will not work in this election. BPF was formed for and by all the people. We are confident of winning with a huge margin,” he claimed.

The BPF nominated Kampa Borgoyary from Kokrajhar. (PTI)

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