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New Delhi: Terror reared it head once again in Assam on Friday afternoon. Gunmen opened fire at a busy market in the town of Kokrajhar, killing at least 14 people and injuring 20. According to news reports, security agencies suspect the attack was the handiwork of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit), or NDFB(S) faction.

What is the NDFB(S) and what are its demands? And who is Songbijit? Also, what distinguishes it from the 30-plus insurgent groups operating in the state?

To understand the genesis of NDFB(S), one needs to go back a few decades and recognise that demands for autonomous areas based on ethnic identities have been the reason for most conflicts in India’s north-east.

In 1968, the Plains Tribals Council of Assam (PTCA) demanded Union Territory status for an area to be carved out of Assam, called Udayachal. The Bodos too are a plains tribe and their cause was represented by the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU).

In the 1970s, the ABSU, under the leadership of the feisty Upendra Nath Brahma, emerged as a formidable force. Its primary demand was the inclusion of Bodo was an official language of Assam. In 1982, after a long struggle, the ABSU had its way—and Bodo was recognised as an official language of Assam.

So what happened then? Shouldn’t the movement have ended on a happy note? Well, not really.

Although the ABSU had worked closely with the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) in the impassioned Assam agitation in the early eighties, the end of the movement—which resulted in the signing of the Assam Accord in 1986—also ended the camaraderie between the AASU and the ABSU.

The ABSU took offence to a particular clause of the Assam Accord that sought to “protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people". The ABSU felt the use of the word Assamese undermined their existence—and so, in 1987, the ABSU stepped up its movement and made a new demand: a separate state of Bodoland on the North Bank of the Brahmaputra. Divide Assam 50-50 was the war cry.

Soon, the movement, which was largely peaceful, became an armed struggle. The Bodo movement now had a new face: Ranjan Daimary, who had in 1986, formed an armed organisation called the Bodo Security Force (BdSF).

The BdSF was soon renamed as the National Democratic Front of Bodoland. It wasn’t just a change in name, though. The NDFB under Daimary killed, kidnapped and extorted mercilessly—and very soon built a reputation of being brutally unrelenting towards anyone who didn’t toe its line.

The army came down heavily on the NDFB in the ’90s in a series of counter operations, forcing them to retreat to Bhutan. Bhutan did provide a safe haven, but not for too long. In the early 2000s, the Indian Army with the help of the Royal Bhutan Army launched a massive operation to eliminate NDFB militants hiding in Bhutan.

Daimary, then, realising that he had run out of his cards announced a six-month-long unilateral ceasefire starting 15 October 2004. The government, though, refused to reciprocate and security force continued operations against the outfit.

Finally, though, the government relented—and a tripartite agreement was signed between the government of India, the Assam government and NDFB on 25 May 2005 for holding peace talks.

In 2008, the group submitted its demand of a separate Bodoland, and the talks unsurprisingly didn’t go far.

On 30 October, the group struck again. This time in the heart of Guwahati. A bomb placed inside a car went off at one of the city’s busiest marketplaces. It was strategically placed at one of the most densely populated locations in the market. It was meant to kill.

In the immediate aftermath, Ranjan Daimary was expelled from the party. Vice-president B. Sungthagra (alias Dhiren Boro) declared himself the new president and gave the organisation a new name: National Democratic front of Bodoland-Progressive (NDFB-P). In reality, though, it was just a splinter group, which wanted to talk with the government.

The faction led by Daimary was now called the NDBB (RD), after his name.

In 2010, Daimary was apprehended by the Bangladeshi security forces, who handed him over to their Indian counterparts. Daimary was released in 2013. Daimary, by now, had given up his demand for a sovereign state and was willing to negotiate with the government without any pre-condition.

While Daimary was in jail though, his deputy, Ingti Kathar Songbijit, who was firmly against any kinds of peace talks and unwavering in his demand for a separate Bodoland, split from the outfit along with his supporters and formed what we know as the the NDFB(S)—the same organisation which the army believes carried out Friday’s attack in Kokrajhar.

Sangbijit, curiously, is not a Bodo; he is a Karbi. His penchant for violence, though, seems to exceed even his former mentor, Daimary.

In August 2014, his group executed a 16-year-old, forcing her parents to watch as they pumped in nine bullets. They contended that the girl was acting as a spy for the state government.

In January 2016, the government rejected the NDFB(S)’s offer of a ceasefire, saying it would not talk with any insurgent group involved in killing of innocent persons.

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