EDITORIAL

Mr Sonowal, Your Lost Opportunity is Irrecoverable

THE REALITY MIRROR

Bikash Sarmah

I n the wake of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) hearings in Guwahati and Silchar last week pertaining to the anti-Assam Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, it is clear that the Assam chapter of the BJP has kowtowed to its masters in Delhi who are more interested in consolidating a new Hindu vote bank than in safeguarding indigenous interests in Assam, a State that has borne the worst brunt of illegal immigration from Bangladesh and that is being eyed by Islamists in Bangladesh for the making of a greater Islamic state of Bangladesh – which may be called the Unfinished Agenda of Partition.

The Bill seeks to award citizenship to the religious minorities of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who have fled their respective motherlands due to religious persecution at the hands of the religious majority in those countries – the Muslims. These religious minorities are Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Parsis. Of these, the Hindus form the majority. Afghanistan is embroiled in a crisis unique to its polity ever since the Soviet occupation ended in the late 1980s, with outfits such as Al Qaeda finding safe haven there, the indigenous, savage Taliban controlling vast swathes of that country’s territory, and now the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – a terror group far more savage than the Taliban – rapidly gaining ground in a vacuum of terror left by the Taliban and Al Qaeda. But there is no report of mass exodus of religious minorities of that country making a beeline to become Indian citizens. And in any case it does not concern Assam, given the distance between the Afghan border and Assam. Ditto with Pakistan, where the largest religious minority, the Hindus, forms a very small percentage, less than two per cent, of the total population of that country. It is the immediate neighbour Bangladesh that concerns us here in Assam.

The persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh, including desecration of temples, open murder, and rape, by Islamists as the latter weave a dream of converting that country into a rogue Islamic nation absolutely intolerant of any other religious faith, is a fact of life. At the time of Partition, Hindus comprised about 30 per cent of that country’s population. Today, it is about eight per cent. Some estimates say it is around five per cent. Whatever it might be, the fact is that there has been a sharp diminution of the Hindu population in Bangladesh since 1947 when the country was partitioned on the basis of religion. Despite the fact that the linguistic (Bengali) sentiment outweighed the Islam factor as Pakistan was splintered into two leading to the metamorphosis of East Pakistan into Bangladesh in 1971, immigrants in huge numbers, both Hindu and Muslim, continued to flood Assam, enamoured by the fertile plains of the Brahmaputra valley and introduced well to the economic vacuum that the State presented – and that still presents.

It is not some divine miracle, or the high rate of fertility among the indigenous Muslims of Assam, that has led to district after district in the State becoming Muslim-dominated; it is due solely to immigration from Bangladesh, mostly illegal, and worse, patronized by political parties like the Congress in the name of ‘minorities’ safeguard in a ‘secular’ country but actually done so for votes even at the cost of the very sovereignty of this land, the very identity of a people, the Assamese people, and the very existence of a diverse matrix of ethnic tribes of the State.

How does one explain the enactment of the IM(DT) Act in 1983, scrapped by the Supreme Court in 2005 – a perverse immigration law under which the onus of proving nationality did not lay with the accused but with the complainant? Simple. It was meant to facilitate hassle-free settlement of illegal Bangladeshis in Assam so that they could be consolidated as a solid vote bank for the then ruling and supreme political party, the Indian National Congress, the same front that helped India wriggle out of the grip of the merciless, colonial British raaj but that today does not resemble even a minor semblance of its original intent and character.

One also remembers how in the wake of the abrogation of the IM(DT) Act – in which the Supreme Court not only said the law was “ultra vires” the Constitution of India but also called illegal immigration from Bangladesh to Assam an act of “external aggression” – a new political front, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), came into being as though to provide a new ‘secular’ shield to the ones affected by the scrapping of that Act, the vast and swelling crowd of illegal Bangladeshis in the State. And one remembers how the AIUDF, led by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, who would describe himself as one of the greatest Indian ‘secularists’, rose from strength to strength, winning constituency after constituency in ‘minorities’-dominated districts such as Dhubri, Barpeta, Hailakandi, Goalpara, Karimganj and Nagaon, and is now a formidable political force in the State, with Ajmal perhaps nursing a burning desire to become chief minister.

And now, as if the demographic wounds endured by Assam are not enough and more injuries need to be inflicted on the Assamese-speaking and other indigenous people of the State, we have the BJP leadership at the Centre, bent on promoting some sort of ‘international Hindu solidarity’, going all out to make Assam the most secure place on earth for Bangladeshi Hindus who are already settled here illegally and more of whom are waiting in Bangladesh to swarm to this State thought of as the best dumping ground for illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, whatever the reason might be for such immigration – poverty, or a design to take over this State by reducing its sons of the soil into a minority in their own land of birth.

And you know what is worse? It is that the Assam BJP, under the stewardship of Sarbananda Sonowal as chief minister, has chosen to remain silent over the Bill not because most of its leaders, who are indigenous to the State, are in support of the proposed immigration law but because politics must rate a priority far higher than the cause of the very land where they have taken birth and which has now been enormously enfeebled by the rampancy of illegal immigration from Bangladesh to the extent of its own people standing in front of the ghost of second-rate citizenry while the Bangladeshi immigrants, be they Muslim or Hindu, strengthening themselves as prized political assets for political parties, be they Congress or BJP or AIUDF or even the regional AGP, to evolve into first-rate citizens in due course of time. This is the grim portent that ‘secularists’ or ‘politically correct’ leaders would choose not to see and say but this is what the current reality in Assam all about. Let us not pretend.

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, whose petition as a highly concerned son-of-the-soil politician in the Supreme Court had it scrap the notorious IM(DT) Act in 2005, has lost a golden opportunity to prove his Assamese subnationalist valour, commitment to the indigenous cause, and patriotism as a whole by being absolutely silent on the Citizenship Bill just because the impression must reach Delhi that he is a good boy in the eyes of the central BJP leadership and an ardent player in the politics of a new vote bank – Bangladeshi Hindus, or perhaps all the Hindus in Assam who speak Bengali, both legal and illegal. This is completely unexpected from a leader as Sonowal. Had he had the will and the interest of the indigenous people at heart without having to bother about the obnoxious facet of routine politics, he could have had the State cabinet take a solid resolution against the Bill much before the JPC visit. Meghalaya did this under Conrad Sangma’s leadership. Why could not Sonowal? It is just his political choice, nothing else.