In the course of election speeches made at Duliajan and elsewhere on Wednesday, Union Home Minister Rajth Singh assured the people of Assam that the NDA government would “completely seal” the Indo-Bangladesh border within a reasoble time frame to stop illegal immigration from Bangladesh. Dwelling on the issue of a porous border with Bangladesh that had facilitated illegal immigration from that country for decades, the Union Home Minister accused the Congress of having failed to check illegal immigration. It may be tempting for some to dismiss this criticism of the Congress as an inevitable element of pre-election lectures by rivals. However, it is impossible to ignore some of the facts relating to large-scale illegal immigration from Bangladesh regardless of who is saying what in the election speeches. In the course of his speech at Duliajan, the Home Minister said, “The Congress-led government ignored illegal immigration for years and they did not take any effective step against it. We need a State government in Assam which cooperates with us in curbing illegal immigration. Assam has only 263 km of border with Bangladesh. It will be sealed with the active co-operation of the State government. Intruders have been continuously entering India since the day Bangladesh was created. Bangladeshi intruders are coming to India through the porous Indo-Bangladesh border. What is the reason? Why didn’t you (the Congress) stop them? Why didn’t you completely seal the Indo-Bangladesh border? We just need some time and we will seal the Bangladesh border completely so that no Bangladeshi intruder can come in.”
There is so much that is true in the Home Minister’s statement that not even his political adversaries can dismiss the statement as mere election propaganda. The large-scale illegal immigration from Bangladesh has been taking place since 1962. The liberation of East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 merely aggravated the situation. People living in Assam are aware of how this illegal immigration from Bangladesh has actually been encouraged by Congress and Congress-led governments over the years. In fact, it was a Congress government that was responsible for the ectment of the Illegal Migrants (Determition by Tribuls) Act in 1983 that displaced the Foreigners Act of 1946 in Assam and substituted it with the IM(DT) Act to facilitate illegal immigration across the border. And once an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh infiltrated into Assam the State government lost no time in adding his or her me to the electoral role of the State. And since the IM(DT) Act took away the power of the district administration to detect and deport illegal migrants, the entire process of adding illegal foreign voters to the electoral roll of the State gained momentum during the 22 years that the IM(DT) Act was in force.
It is indeed reassuring to hear the Union Home Minister’s promise that the NDA government would completely seal the Indo-Bangladesh border within a reasoble time frame to stop this large-scale illegal migration that has gone on for decades with the active encouragement of the Assam government. However, one cannot ignore the difficulties that the NDA government is bound to face in completely sealing a porous border a part of which lies over a river. More than the physical difficulties, the government will face hurdles that stem from decades of a political culture that has guarded India’s intertiol borders on the west and the east so very differently. India’s border with Pakistan has always been well guarded with shoot-at-sight orders to deal with any intruder. In the case of the Indo-Bangladesh border, the then Home Minister P. Chidambaram had given specific orders that there was to be no shooting of any intruder on the border under any circumstances. This resulted in the evolution of different treatments of the same problem across two of India’s intertiol borders and different expectations of the people of two neighbouring countries regarding illegal migration to India. The Home Minister must also tell us what he regards as a reasoble time frame, since this is likely to take at least a couple of years because of the attitude of the contractors who are familiar with the total insincerity of the Congress and Congress-led governments to the task of sealing our border with Bangladesh.