The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) has done well to seek a clarification from the Union government about the measures taken to deport persons detected as foreigners. The AASU has alleged that the government is not implementing the directive of the Supreme Court in this regard. The move from AASU comes soon after the Government of India’s recent announcement that there is no plan to sign another agreement with Bangladesh for the repatriation of Bangladeshi tiols. The AASU initiative acquires special significance for yet another reason. It has come at a time when Bangladesh President Md Abdul Hamid is in Guwahati on a three-day visit to Assam and Meghalaya. Yesterday, he visited Balat, a small town in East Khasi Hills where he had undergone training as a young man. He said he had reached Balat via Gumaghat and Moilam in Meghalaya to set up a youth reception camp whose members directly fought the war for the creation of Bangladesh. He was happy to recall those days when he had actively taken part in the “war of liberation at the call of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.” He added that they organized the young freedom fighters and discussed war strategies with senior politicians and organizers. “One million people from Bangladesh were sheltered in 45 refugee camps set in Assam and parts of the state now in Meghalaya. I follow with admiration the development of Assam under the current leadership. I hope various connectivity projects with north-eastern States remain a vital component of our partnership,” he said.
When the President of a neighbouring country comes visiting, it is standard political and diplomatic etiquette to avoid thorny or unpleasant matters relating to bilateral issues, no matter how vital they might be to the host country. The standard practice is to take up such irritants with other officials of the delegation and hope that they will be taken up with the visiting dignitary by his officials. We have a very major issue with Bangladesh that we cannot afford to ignore, no matter what the norms of political and diplomatic niceties might be. Today, there are far more than one million people from Bangladesh in Assam alone. It may be recalled that on July 15, 2004, the then Minister of State for Home Affairs, Sriprakash Jaiswal had told the Rajya Sabha that on December 31, 2001, there were 12,053,950 illegal Bangladeshis residing in 17 States of India. Jaiswal had also claimed that Assam alone accounted for 50 lakh (five million) of them. Against this bit of highly alarming statistics, we have just 33 illegal migrants from Bangladesh being deported from Assam between April 1, 2016 and March 31, 2017! Today, there is simply no question of ‘sheltering’ anyone from Bangladesh. We have to find civilized and diplomatic ways of getting across to the President of Bangladesh the highly disturbing fact that now there are about 70 lakh Bangladeshi tiols living illegally in Assam alone, and that they have to be taken back by Bangladesh. What makes matters far worse is that the majority of those declared as foreign tiols by the foreigners’ tribuls are reported missing.
Mercifully, what the Chief Minister of Assam or (later on) the President of India or the Prime Minister of India might hesitate to do on the plea of proper diplomatic etiquette, the Hindu Yuva Chatra Parishad maged to do without any reservations. On Thursday, the Parishad staged a demonstration in front of Hotel Vivanta, where the Bangladesh President is staying. The protesters demanded that Bangladesh take back its 70 lakh tiols staying in Assam illegally. The protesters also demanded that Bangladesh should return parts of Assam’s land that is in its possession. It is the kind of situation we have in Assam that prompts one to suggest that norms of diplomacy should undergo changes whereby it becomes normal and diplomatically correct for heads of state or government to raise delicate or controversial issues with visiting dignitaries of other countries directly instead of having to discuss such issues with officers in their entourage or having to pretend that all is well with the bilateral relations of the countries concerned.