The third and fil report by the Upamanyu Hazarika Commission to the Supreme Court is a damning indictment of vote-bank politics in Assam that threatens to reduce the indigenous population to a minority by 2047 — within a century of the country’s independence. It draws an alarming picture of successive governments at New Delhi and Dispur allowing the illegal migrants lobby to strike deep roots in the State administration and spread its tentacles to government land, welfare schemes, employment avenues, electoral rolls and almost every other vital sector. After touring the Indo-Bangla border to physically verify the state of border fencing and floodlights there, as well as going through Gauhati High Court verdicts and observations and government records on the foreigners issue, the Hazarika Commission has warned that even the ongoing NRC update process may well be compromised, recommending D tests to verify the antecedents of applicants. That the foreigners lobby is sure to fight for inclusion in the tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) can be surmised by the brazen manner in which it has gone about compromising electoral rolls in the State. The Hazarika Commission has documented how in a mere 26-year period from 1971 to 1997, the number of voters in 14 polling centres within Boko assembly constituency has recorded increases ranging from a steep 80 per cent to an unbelievable 2135 percent. Can such an increase be ascribed to turally rising birth rates in Boko, situated about an hour-long drive away from Guwahati?
The scale in which foreigners are grabbing government land can be gauged from the fact that in Darrang district alone, as much as 77,420 bighas of government land have been encroached upon, as admitted by the district administration itself. The Hazarika Commission has also smelled a rat in the way the Assam government has been going about resettling ostensibly ‘flood and erosion victims’ on government and grazing land as well as forest reserves. It remains to be seen what comes of the commission’s suggestion of restricting transfer of land, whether by way of sale, purchase, gift or any other such transaction, or by way of allotment from the government or any other agency — only to those who have been Indian citizens in 1951 and their descendants. It is obvious that a powerful and entrenched nexus has grown up over the decades between the illegal migrants lobby and major parts of the State administration — trampling upon the rights of citizens and indigenous people while going out of the way to help foreigners. The pernicious idea among some political parties ruling at the Centre and the State is that while the courts are custodians and interpreters of the law, it is the prerogative of these parties to change the law if it suits their interests, never mind the damage it will wreak upon society. This is the mindset which drew up a law like the IMDT Act for Assam which made it all but impossible to detect foreigners, before the Supreme Court mercifully struck it down. It is again this mindset which is behind the bending of laws to cater to the foreigners vote-bank in Assam and present a fait accompli of irreversible demographic change at the ground in three decades, knowing that the courts can go only so far within the ambit of law to hold the government to account.
Be as it may, the Hazarika Commission has made several other recommendations in its report which the apex court will take up in its next hearing. It has mooted creating a ‘sterile zone’ along the Indo-Bangla border, along with converting riverine stretches to such sterile zones to be guarded by an additiol battalion of the BSF, installing radars and CCTVs and using drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for better surveillance. It has also called for relocating Indian villages inside the border fence, which is significant considering that some villages located right on the boundary line have long been used by Bangladeshi infiltrators as entry points into India. The commission has also called for a review of the ‘non-lethal’ policy of the BSF, which was adopted during the UPA government’s rule. The instruction was issued after reports of BSF killings of Indian and Bangladeshi tiols allegedly trying to smuggle goods and cattle or illegally cross the border. Considering Bangladesh a ‘friendly neighbour’, the Central government had then introduced non-lethal weapons like pump action guns, stun laser shots and rubber bullets at the border for the BSF. However, Union Home minister Rajth Singh’s statement in April this year that ‘friendly ties with Bangladesh could not be at the cost of jawans’ lives’ may well indicate some rethink of the Centre’s soft policy on the eastern border. In the backdrop of the rendra Modi government’s efforts for closer relations with Dhaka and its move to legalise the status of minority (read Hindu) refugees from that country, it remains to be seen whether it takes a more pro-active policy on the Indo-Bangla border. As for neutralising the foreigners lobby in Assam, the coming assembly elections in 2016 will be crucial for the political future of the State.