The traditiolly ‘secular’ Congress has suddenly decided to execute a clever U–turn on the issue of granting citizenship selectively to some migrants from Bangladesh. In a resolution adopted recently, the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) decided to urge the Central government to grant citizenship to all migrants from former East Pakistan and Bangladesh who were part of undivided India, but who later fled their country due to religious persecution and discrimition, and took refuge in India. On April 20, 2012, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had submitted a memorandum to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for granting of citizenship to such migrants from East Pakistan and Bangladesh, “taking into account the historical reality and humanitarian aspect involved.” At a press conference held at Guwahati on Monday, APCC president Anjan Dutta said that the executive committee of his party had recently discussed the unresolved citizenship issue of the Bengali Hindus, Buddhists and people from other communities who had crossed over to Assam in the face of persecution and torture after the partition of the country. He added that his party favoured having no cut–off date for this exercise. “Even if a person takes refuge in Assam today, he should be given citizenship,” Dutta insisted.
Anjan Dutta seems to have overlooked several issues related to such selective grant of citizenship to the illegal migrants. In the first place, the partition of India took place in 1947, and all persecution and torture of people on religious grounds took place soon after and was carried on for some time. The framers of the Indian Constitution were quite aware of what was happening and decided on the cut–off date of July 19, 1948 for such migrants from Pakistan. However, illegal migration from Pakistan continued for many more years, especially to Assam. This discovery must be attributed largely to S.L.Shakdher, Chief Election Commissioner, who warned the tion of the hazards of such a situation in 1978. The following year saw the beginning of the six–year–old Assam Movement against foreign tiols living illegally in Assam. In actual fact, it turned out to be a movement mainly against illegal migrants from Bangladesh since East Pakistan had been liberated by that time. We tend to overlook the fact that any cut–off date for migrants from Pakistan other than July 19, 1948, is a sort of violation of Article 6 of the Constitution of India. To that extent, even the Assam Accord is a violation of the Constitution. And yet, the Assam Accord was signed on August 15, 1985 at a time when the Congress was in power both at the Centre and in Assam. And now we have the APCC suggesting that for Hindu and Buddhist migrants from Bangladesh, there should be no cut–off date at all! It is important to bear in mind that in deciding on a ratiol cut–off date in such situations, one cannot make room for Rip Van Winkles who might wake up half–a–century later and decide only then that it is impossible for them to continue living in the country of their birth. Secondly, it is rather strange that a political party that prides itself on its ‘secularism’ should now be talking of making special provisions for Hindus and Buddhists of Bangladesh. One would turally be inclined to attribute two reasons for this sudden change of stance. The first is that the since the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, the Congress has learnt the folly of depending too much on minority voters and pretending to be ‘secular’ on that count. Being able to win no more than just 44 seats in the Lok Sabha, the Congress has learned the lesson that it cannot afford to ignore the Hindu majority of the country. Accordingly, the Congress way of looking at the electorate has undergone a change. It is in the process of evolving plans to woo the Hindu majority of the country for a change. The other reason for this unexpected concern for the Hindus and the Buddhists from Bangladesh who have migrated to Assam is that Congress can no longer be sure of winning elections on the illegal Bangladeshi Muslim votes alone. In 2016, these votes are very likely to go to the AIUDF. So it has become necessary for the Congress to eat humble pie and think about the Hindu and Buddhist voters from Bangladesh. Besides, many of the voters in the “D” list (who are likely to be able to vote in the 2016 Assembly elections) are Hindu migrants from Bangladesh. And yet, considering that the Congress was also greatly responsible for amending the Constitution to change the complexion of India from a “sovereign democratic republic” to a “sovereign socialist secular democratic republic” it would be a minor sacrilege to talk about granting citizenship selectively only to Hindu and Buddhist migrants from Bangladesh. The APCC would have been better off just talking about “people who crossed over to Assam as a result of persecution and torture after partition of the country.” After all, it is only the religious minorities of East Pakistan and Bangladesh who have been persecuted and tortured. The Congress would then have at least preserved its secular credentials and not been accused of changing its stance over the grant of citizenship to illegal migrants from Bangladesh. In this respect, the AASU that was largely responsible for the signing of the Assam Accord, was far more ‘secular’ than the Congress because the Accord stipulates that those who entered Assam after March 25, 1971, must be detected and dispersed from the State irrespective of religion. The Congress has only proved once again that it can neither remain truly secular nor totally honest when its electoral prospects are under threat.