Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Assam’s Bodoland region last week, days after the historic Bodo peace deal, came as the ruling BJP sought to capitalise on the moment and drum up support for the citizenship law in the region. On his first trip to a region consumed by protests against the CAA, protests that have forced his party into an uncomfortable position in the North East, he used the occasion to try to persuade people that the CAA was not bad for them.
The turnout was massive and unprecedented – nearly seven lakh people had gathered to celebrate the end of an armed insurgency that lasted for 40 years and resulted in nearly 4,000 deaths. The setting – Kokrajhar, the headquarters of Bodoland – was picture-perfect. And the excitement in the air turned euphoric as the Prime Minister’s helicopter landed.
“I have attended many rallies… addressed several rallies, but never such a massive one. This is one of the biggest political rallies. I was seeing from my helicopter… could only see people,” Prime Minister Modi said at the start of his speech.
The Prime Minister’s speech quickly went beyond rhetoric and optics as he extolled his government’s handling of the North East.
“Last five years we worked very hard to improve the North East. States from here were seen as recipients… now the North East is a growth engine. Now Delhi is at your footsteps. I could have sent a message but I came to reach out to people of Assam,” he added.
Then came the appeal on the citizenship law, part of a familiar pitch that involves dismissing critics as those spreading rumours.
“There are some people who are speaking rumours that the law will allow foreigners to settle. Nothing of this sort will happen…. Moment we get the high-level panel report on Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, we will implement it,” he said.
As the speech unfolded, it seemed the Prime Minister may have some takers, at least among those who came to listen to him.
“Whatever (PM) Modi is doing is for good and peace will return… we are sure about it,” Samson Basumatay, a Bodo youth who travelled 200 km to listen to the Prime Minister’s address, said.
The non-Bodo people, who constitute about 70 per cent of the population in Bodoland, feel the PM will ensure they are not “isolated” – as they felt they were in the past two accords.
“The new agreement, he (PM Modi) said, will also take care of non-tribals. If that happens, there will be permanent peace,” a non-tribal youth said.
Such a massive turnout – a record of sorts – also goes to show how eager people in Bodoland are to see an end to armed insurgency. For the BJP government in the state, and that at the centre, it is a major boost after criticism over the citizenship law – something they will hope to use for more reach-outs and to keep their political supremacy in the region intact.