Ever since underground leader Jiban Singha of the banned Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) reiterated the call for a separate state, there have been signs of a resumption of activity on part of its activists in Assam and North Bengal. Northeast India media reported the arrest of two KLO activists from Kokrajhar, Assam, some days ago. Allegedly they were trying to resume their extortion-related activities and had asked for money from a local businessman who complained to the police. The reports did not make it clear whether the activists were collecting money on behalf of the proposed Kamtapur state as per the old KLO demand or functioning on their own. Despite reports of internal divisions and a shift on part of some of its cadres to other groups, the KLO has not yet ceased functioning totally, reduced as it has become. Sources said the choice of Kokrajhar town, a major commercial/administrative center of the tribal Bodoland autonomous area, was significant. Presumably, KLO operatives sought to exploit the traditional distrust between majority Assamese and minority Bodo tribe people in an ethnically sensitive region.
Whether in Assam or North Bengal, the general perception is that the KLO has ceased to be a serious secessionist organisation along with the ULFA in recent years. The covid-related death some time ago of its former leader Atul Roy had affected cadre morale. However, a recently released video apparently by the KLO, showed KLO renewing its call for an independent state. It went viral but did not evoke much response from established political parties. In it, KLO strongly attacked West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee who firmly opposed all demands to partition West Bengal, whether by the Gorkhas or other ethnic groups. KLO reminded the chief minister of Coochbehar’s ‘independent’ status even as India was being partitioned in 1947. It never formed part of West Bengal, he insisted. However, security analysts did not ignore one part of KLO’s statement, wherein he claimed that his organisation had now settled its ideological differences with the Greater Coochbehar Peoples Association (GCPA). Now the movement for a greater separate Coochbehar state, to be carved out of existing districts in Central/north Bengal and Southern Assam, would be resumed with the total support of the leading ethnic group of the region as a whole – the Rajbonshis.
While political leaders/parties in Assam did not comment on the KLO statement, they took the views expressed by veteran north Bengal-based leader Ananta Ray, more seriously. Speaking independently of the KLO chief recently, the GCPA leader whose mass following is known to be greater than others, re-endorsed the call for a separate Coochbehar state. He did not refer to the KLO. However, observers said it could not have been a coincidence that the two non-mainstream political leaders would speak out stressing their similar tribal loyalties and demands at about the same time without prior coordination. As matters stand, the new Coochbehar state would include parts of Malda, Murshidabad, Dinajpur, Darjeeling, and other areas in West Bengal, along with parts of Goalpara, Dhubri, Bongaigaon, Bodoland, Chirang, and other territories in Assam. At different times during earlier centuries, the independent kingdom of Coochbehar did rule over many of these and other territories, according to observers.