DATELINE GUWAHATI/Wasbir Hussain
The Assam Government thinks the ‘White Paper’ it has brought out on the issue of influx is infallible. Groups like the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) feel the document is a pack of lies. Damn the document—the fact remains that illegal migration from Bangladesh continues to be a live issue in Assam. Whether or not the quantum of illegal migration per month or per year has increased or decreased is also not the issue. The issue primarily is that the ghost of the illegal migrant is lurking for everyone to act and react. And the changing demography in parts of Assam is cited as proof that aliens are threatening to alter or have already altered the demographic profile of several districts, mainly those along Bangladesh.
Before we go any further, let us take a look at some of the statistics contained in the State Government’s ‘White paper’ on the issue: the document says tribunals in Assam have declared 61,774 people as foreigners since 1985. Of these, only 2,442 have been thrown out of the State, having been either ‘pushed back’ or deported. Deportation would have been unlikely because Dhaka has so far refrained from acknowledging any illegal migration of its nationals to anywhere in India. There are three detention camps, touted by the State Government as a unique initiative in confining declared illegal migrants until their ouster. But the fact, as mentioned in the ‘White Paper’, is that there are only 118 inmates in these facilities.
Assam Government spokesman Pradyut Bordoloi, a veteran minister, has said, in response to the AASU’s scathing attack on the document, that the ‘White Paper’ was an ‘objective, factually unbiased and transparent account of the issue (of migration), devoid of any political tenor.’ Let me once again iterate that the question here is not whether the document is objective or not. The issue is whether the Government or those opposed to it on the subject, can do anything about it. Are we once again going to see the movement, that seems to have been re-ignited, petering out, with fatigue creeping in amongst those leading or trying to lead it? One doesn’t know.
What is important at this stage is to detect the illegal aliens living in Assam and expel them from the State. And, one can hope that the number of people actually declared as illegal migrants are going to rise drastically in view of the Government increasing the number of tribunals dealing with such cases from 36 to 100. Yes, we know the State has three detention centres! But the key question is can the Government really oust the declared illegal migrants to Bangladesh? When the number of such people goes up drastically, can the Government surreptitiously try pushing them back into Bangladesh? How long can the Government keep such people in detention camps? These are vital questions, linked to the key issue that is threatening to once again snowball into a big movement in the State in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Dhaka’s stand continues to act as a stumbling block to the issue of deportation of illegal migrants back to that country. For instance, Mohamed Mijarul Quayes, Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh, had claimed in a recent interview with me that India has never raised the issue of illegal infiltration from his country with Dhaka. If what the top Bangladeshi official has said is true, New Delhi has a lot to answer because Assam had seen a six-year-long mass uprising over just one issue—illegal migration from Bangladesh. The uprising ended in 1985 with the signing of the Assam Accord that fixed March 25, 1971 as the cut-off date for detection and expulsion of illegal migrants.
To a pointed question on whether he accepted that people from Bangladesh may be illegally migrating to India, Quayes said,“…of course, there is a whole lot of traffic between Bangladesh and India, people coming and going to either side. But we do not have any credible basis to think that there is an influx. Now, I say this because the issue as raised is an over-simplification and I think that if there are political dimensions in a domestic sense, I would not be able to comment on that. But I think what is important is, between Bangladesh and India, that when you sit down to talk, it is not an issue that has been raised by the Indian Government. Therefore, we would assume that they are also quite satisfied that it is an issue that does not need to be talked about…”
The need of the hour, therefore, for New Delhi is to use its influence in the region and make Dhaka agree to evolve a mechanism to take back its nationals who had illegally migrated to Assam, or India for that matter. Pradyut Bordoloi, the Assam Government spokesman, has made a significant statement when he said the issue has, of late, figured in India-Bangladesh talks and that efforts were on to work out a bilateral arrangement with Bangladesh to ensure it accepts its nationals back. This may be easier said than done and one can only wait and watch the events unfold.