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Assam: Former militant, ex-NSG boss, tribal strongman in the fray from Kokrajhar

By: Siddhartha Sarma


Last Updated: March 22, 2014, 17:25 IST

Assam: Former militant, ex-NSG boss, tribal strongman in the fray from Kokrajhar

The Northeast, with its numerous insurgencies, is no stranger to former militants trying out their electoral fortunes.

The Northeast, with its numerous insurgencies, is no stranger to former militants trying out their electoral fortunes. In Assam's restive Kokrajhar constituency, however, a curious triangular contest is shaping up this Parliamentary election season, pitting a senior former ULFA leader against one of the most firebrand leaders of the Bodoland movement - and against the former head of the National Security Guards.

In the first corner is the sitting MP from Kokrajhar, and four-time winner, SK Bwiswmuthiary, of the Bodoland People's Front. Bwiswmuthiary has a long and prominent record within the Bodoland movement which saw numerous offshoots, democratic, quasi-constitutional and violently militant. Participating very early in the demand for a separate Bodoland State, he quit as Chief of the Bodoland Autonomous Council in 1993 following the failure of the first Bodo Accord.

While committed to the cause of a separate state, he eventually engineered dialogue between the Bodoland Liberation Tigers, the Assam government and the Centre, after which the Second Bodo Accord was signed in 2003 and the current Autonomous Council was created in Bodo-dominated areas. Bwiswmuthiary is still committed to Bodo unity, although his influence among the remaining Bodo militants, including the anti-talks faction of the National Democratic Front for Bodoland (NDFB), which has stepped up violence after the creation of Telengana.

Pitted against the sitting MP this time is his ideological opposite - former commander of the ULFA's dreaded Battalion 709, Hira Sarania. Sarania for a long time was the militant group's deadliest field commander, responsible for masterminding several attacks in Assam and for training several of the ULFA's most dedicated cadre. After coming overground as part of the pro-talks group of the ULFA, Sarania was arrested in 2012 on robbery, kidnap and murder charges, but is now free to contest the polls.

Sarania is from Baksa, a district within the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), making him a local for Kokrajhar constituency. However, he has been clear that he is opposed to the proposed Bodoland state and has the backing of the Sanmilita Janagostiya Oikyo Mancha, an umbrella organisation of the more than 20 non-Bodo communities in the area.

The issue of Assam's territorial unity versus Bodo aspirations will therefore be the main platform for the Sarania-Bwiswmuthiary fight, with non-Bodo groups pointing out that they are being targeted and treated as second-class citizens in BTC. Sarania, for his part, is also clear that his Battalion 709 days are behind him.

"I am not Hira Sarania any more, I am Naba Kumar Sarania," he said at a press conference in Guwahati recently, referring to his real name, which is not as well known as his nom de guerre in Assam. But for the moment he has found a rich vein of discontent among the non-Bodos of his constituency.

In the third corner is RS Mooshahary, nationally the most famous among the three, and at one time director-general of India's elite counter-terrorist unit, the National Security Guards (NSG), and also DG of the BSF. The IPS officer has had a high-profile career post-retirement as well, serving as the first Chief Information Commissioner of Assam and later governor of Meghalaya.

He was most recently in the news when his name came up as a possible presidential candidate, supported by some tribal leaders. However, he has now made his political plunge, joining the Trinamool Congress recently and announcing his candidature from Kokrajhar.

Himself a Bodo, he is unlikely to play the ethnic card, considering his background, and is likely to fight on local issues of governance and law and order. What complicates his candidature is his parent party, the TMC, is opposed to the formation of new states like Gorkhaland, whose leaders are allied with the Bodos. This might alienate some of Mooshahary's expected support base.

However, in an election which sees yet another instance of Congress dynastic politics, with state Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi's son Gaurav getting the party ticket from another Assam constituency, Kokrajhar's three front-running candidates stand for the three true facets of state and regional politics in the Northeast - one a student leader turned champion of ethnic aspirations; another a former dreaded militant turned people's voice; and a third an establishment figure with a stellar track record of having performed on the national stage.

first published:March 22, 2014, 17:25 IST
last updated:March 22, 2014, 17:25 IST