Union Home Minister Rajth Singh’s recent visit to the Indo-Bangladesh border is of great significance for more reasons than one. One of the most important reasons, of course, is that there had been no visit to the border by any Union minister for a long time, during the UPA regime. This is something that has understandably raised eyebrows all over the country, since it is very well known how freely illegal immigration to Assam from Bangladesh has been taking place over the years across a virtually open border at several places. For years, it has been an open secret in New Delhi that illegal immigration from Bangladesh has been systematically encouraged by the State government mainly to eble the ruling party to reap the benefit of having a huge vote-bank of illegal foreign voters. What must have intrigued the NDA government is the vast difference in the manning and monitoring of India’s border with Bangladesh as compared to the situation prevailing along our border with Pakistan. The Indo-Pakistan border is a well sealed one with no breaches anywhere. Besides, there is a standing shoot-at-sight directive for any transgression of the border that effectively deters illegal crossings. By contrast, during the brief tenure of P.Chidambaram as Union Home Minister during the UPA regime he had made it very clear that our Border Security Force was not to open fire on illegal migrants from Bangladesh crossing the border illegally. People could not help wondering how there could be two different norms to deal with illegal crossing of intertiol borders for the same country. Another open secret about the Indo-Bangladesh border related to the colossal sums of money spent on a farcical ritual of putting up barbed-wire fencing on certain sections of the Indo-Bangladesh border that were of no use at all because the shoddily erected fences could be removed with very little effort. There was thus a hushed up scandal about astronomical sums of money paid to contractors to set up barbed-wire fences on the border that could be very easily dismantled in no time. There were problems also relating to the enclaves of Bangladesh and India in the territory of the other country that had to be resolved. As we have seen, these issues have been resolved not on the basis of reciprocity or one standard norm but largely to the benefit of Bangladesh. Given the various issues involved and the known stance of the Assam government to actually encourage illegal immigration from Bangladesh for nothing more than illegal electoral gains, it was imperative for Union Home Minister Rajth Singh to see and assess things for himself rather than being content with reports submitted by a State government with very perverse vested interests in respect of illegal migration from Bangladesh.
We are not entirely convinced that Union Home Minister Rajth Singh has been able to see everything that he should have seen along the Indo-Bangladesh border. We are not even sure that the BJP and the AASU knew enough about the border to be able to show the Home Minister what he needed to see. In any case, the Home Minister has admitted that there were many gaps in the 263 km-long border between Bangladesh and Assam and that these gaps needed to be filled up. He promised to complete the work by 2017. He said he was not “entirely satisfied” with the work related to the sealing of the border, though he did not specify any details. For people who are aware of the actual state of the Indo-Bangladesh border, this will be regarded as a rather diplomatic understatement for acts of sabotage that have been going on for years in the me of setting up barbed-wire fencing along the border. It is quite possible that this understatement reflects the awareness of the Centre about how strongly committed the State government has been to the objective of keeping the border open to promote illegal immigration of foreign tiols.
It is hardly surprising that Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi should be so cut up about Union Home Minister Rajth Singh’s refusal to take the Assam government representative with him on his inspection tour of the border even though he took representatives of the AASU and members of the BJP along with him. Tarun Gogoi said that the State government had an important role in safeguarding the border and hence the Assam government should have been taken into confidence for making the border visit of the Home Minister more meaningful. “Never before in my long political career, has a state government been ignored like this,” Gogoi complained. He said that a request had been made by the state government to accommodate Inspector General (SB) H.C. th as a State government representative, but that the request was turned down, citing space constraint as a reason. Regardless of the norms of protocol, even the man on the street is aware of how distorted a picture of the Indo-Bangladesh border would have been presented to the Union Home Minister if the State government’s representative had a hand in determining his itinerary. The Union Home Minister had obviously secured the required intelligence briefing on how well the State government had discharged its duty of safeguarding the border during the last decade and must have been aghast at how well it had sabotaged that sacred duty. The people of Assam should be thankful that the Union Home Minister evinced the pragmatism to rely more on the sources of information that could be relied on rather than relying on a State government that had totally betrayed its own people in order to ensure that the electoral interests of the ruling party were protected even with illegal votes. People would have had a poor opinion of the Union Home Minister if he had blindly relied on the State government that had systematically sabotaged the integrity of the State and the interests of its people instead of banking on more reliable and accurate information.