In an alarming revelation in Parliament, Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijuju said on Wednesday that there were two crore illegal Bangladeshi migrants staying in India. He said, “As per available inputs, there are around 20 million illegal Bangladeshi migrants staying in India.” What makes Rijiju’s statement intriguing as well is that the Centre had so far persistently maintained that it was not possible to give out a figure on the number of illegal Bangladeshis present in the country because they cross over clandestinely and assimilate with the local population. Rijiju added that there were reports of Bangladeshi tiols having entered the country without valid travel documents. But since the entry of such Bangladeshi tiols into the country was clandestine and surreptitious, it was not possible to have accurate data of such Bangladeshi tiols living in various parts of the country. He also said that deportation of foreign tiols illegally staying in the country was a continuous process even though this is a statement that most people are likely to take with a generous helping of salt. Indians have not yet been able to get over the farce of two recent formal deportations of 10 and 12 Bangladeshis by a country that has over 20 million of them!
Rijiju’s statement in Parliament turally reminds us of a similar statement made on July 15, 2004 by former Minister of State for Home, Sriprakash Jaiswal who had told the Rajya Sabha then that there were 1,20,53,950 illegal Bangladeshis living in the 17 States of the country as on December 31, 2001. Jaiswal’s statement had created a political storm especially in States like Assam anxious to conceal the huge number of Bangladeshi migrants living illegally. The then Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had lost no time in calling up the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to lodge a complaint against Jaiswal’s statement. Poor Jaiswal was later forced to withdraw his reply to the Rajya Sabha about the estimated number of Bangladeshis illegally living in India. Since then, the Centre has taken the obstite stand that it was not possible to give an exact figure of the number of Bangladeshis living in India illegally. In such situations, no one actually asks for the exact number of illegal migrants, considering the porous border that India has with Bangladesh. As such, reasoble approximations would have been quite acceptable to our MPs. At the same time, Tarun Gogoi’s anxiety not to have such demographic data made public was quite understandable considering that his political party, the Congress, was deriving the greatest benefit from the illegal vote bank created in Assam with Bangladeshi voters.
India may be the world’s largest democracy. But the fact remains that it is a very young democracy going by European standards. It is also a democracy that must be go on pretending that its ibility to safeguard its intertiol borders is really no more than a manifestation of its liberalism in matters like granting citizenships to foreign tiols. And now that we know we have over 20 million Bangladeshis living in India illegally, we are about to compound the effect of our deplorable failure to guard our porous border with Bangladesh with another monumental mistake of granting Indian citizenship to all Hindus of Bangladesh despite our claims of being a secular republic. Those in the corridors of power in New Delhi seem to have completely overlooked the implications of making the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 a law for the people of Assam. The right-thinking people of Assam, political leaders and different socio-political organizations of the State must continue to exert pressure on the Centre to desist from making this Bill an Act. Mercifully, this will not happen during the ongoing winter session of Parliament since the the Joint Parliamentary Committee has not completed its task. But it is time for legal experts to prepare an appeal before the Supreme Court challenging the ectment of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 before the ruling party hastens to turn it into a law.