Bodo groups in Assam, including the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) and Bodo People's Front (BPF), are up in arms against the Centre and the state government for being "soft" on illegal migrants from Bangladesh, who they say are swarming Bodo-dominated areas.
ABSU, which has revived its agitation for a separate Bodoland state in October 2016, accuses the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Assam government of adopting a "careless and mild approach" to the fast-rising population of illegal Bangladeshi migrants in their areas.
The BPF, a party in coalition with the state government, maintains that the central leaders are not willing to solve the issue as they do not understand the gravity of the problem.
"Today the situation is such that illegal migrants have encroached not just on our forest lands but also other areas. The BJP state government is extremely careless on the issue. Assam is going to lose everything, as the indigenous Bodo people are facing the threat of major illegal migrants influx," Pramod Bodo, President of ABSU, told IANS.
He said that only Bodos have rights to areas belonging to the community in Assam, and they won't accept any government decision to give land to illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, irrespective of whether they are Muslims or Hindus.
He said the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) have been witnessing a constant rise in the number of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants for several years, with the population now standing at nearly 250,000. In 2012, a major riot broke out between the Bodos and Bengali Muslims in BTAD which left over 70 people dead and rendered 400,000 homeless.
BPF, which operates the BTAD, feels that the issue of illegal migrants has turned grave.
BTAD areas include Kokrajhar, Chirang, Udalguri and Baksha -- a total of 8,969.98 sq km.
"In Assam the problem of illegal immigrants is turning grave. Whichever government has come till now has not shown any interest in dealing with the issue. Our Indian national leaders are not interested. If they were keen then the problem would have been solved much earlier," Biswajit Daimary, a senior leader of BPF and a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam, told IANS.
According to Daimary, the central government "does not understand" the problem that rising population of illegal migrants poses in tribal areas of Assam.
"If the central leaders, either the BJP or the former government, had cared to understand the problems of Bodos, then solving them would have become very easy," said Daimary.
According to Assam Police, Bangladeshi immigrants have encroached on the land of Bodos, including reserve forest land.
"There is a huge influx of illegal immigrants in the BTAD areas. In fact, large sections of them have started encroaching on the reserve forest situated in BTAD areas," said a senior Assam Police officer, who did not want to be identified.
Asked why the Police were not evicting illegal migrants from the forest land, the officer said, "There needs to be an order by the government. Until there is an order nothing can be done."
The BJP has, however, denied that it is "soft" on the issue of rising illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Bodo areas or the rest of Assam.
"The Assam government is certainly taking stringent initiatives against illegal immigrants in Assam. There is a legal procedure to identify them and we are doing it. The BJP is not at all soft on the issue of illegal immigrants," Bhabesh Kalita, General Secretary of BJP Assam Pradesh, told IANS.
(Rupesh Dutta can be contacted at Rupesh.email@example.com)