How about declaring the problem of illegal immigration from Bangladesh to Assam a national problem? Well, first let us be clear about the fact that the problem does exist while there is no dearth of self-fashioned secularists who say the problem is a figment of ‘communal imagination’, implying ‘Hindutva’ imagination. And there is an uncanny peculiarity about the problem. When one talks of immigrants of the illegal kind who profess Islam, it is slammed as Hindu fanaticism; when one talks of the Hindus of Bangladesh who land in Assam for whatever reason – their choice of a better economic space or their persecution at the hands of Islamic zealots in that country – it also becomes a major issue among the votaries of ‘secular’ fronts, again, because it runs counter to their long-laboured consolidation of the illegal Muslim vote bank because a new Hindu vote bank is on the rise. Therefore, at the very outset, let us call a spade a spade.
Given the reality of illegal immigration from Bangladesh to Assam – both Muslim and Hindu – and given its enormity as district after district have turned out to be areas where the sons of the soil are no longer a majority because they have been outnumbered by the aliens from the neighbouring country, it should not be a big deal at all if the problem is declared a national problem. Former Union Home Secretary GK Pillai has started the debate yet again, and we welcome it. He was speaking at a panel discussion on the NRC vis-à-vis Assam at the India International Centre in New Delhi on Friday. He said the illegal Bangladeshis issue in Assam is a national problem but the Government of India has been neglecting the issue of constitutional safeguards to the indigenous people of the State all these years. This is despite the hugeness of the problem, the gravest of all threats to the sons of the soil of Assam when it comes to their very existence as a people with a unique culture and tradition.
“There is a problem in Assam. Otherwise we would not have had the Indira-Mujib pact and the Assam Accord. The problem is there. I think we need to look at those problems. There were commitments from the government, and it has to provide constitutional and legal safeguards to the peoples,” Pillai said, adding, “These are the issues which the Government has forgotten (emphasis added). Between 1996 to 2001, when I was the Joint Secretary (Northeast), we had started this debate on how to look at the problem, do we provide constitutional safeguard, what kinds of safeguards and such, but in 2009, when I came back as the Union Home Secretary, I realized there was no discussion at all. In 2009 we again reopened the whole issue and started setting up committees.”
When Pillai says the Government of India has forgotten the issue of constitutional safeguards for the natives of Assam, it directly means the Centre has all along been choosing to forget the issue – because the issue has been alive since the Partition days for anyone in the corridors of power in Delhi with eyes wide open, and without any pseudo-secular, pro-‘minorities’ motive, to see, acknowledge, and hammer out a solution so that the sons of the soil of the State could live as first-rate citizens, and not as a people reduced to a minority in their own beloved land of birth and karma. This choice of the Centre, clearly, is a Congress choice – let us be clear about this too – because it is the Congress that has called the shots from Delhi most of the time since Independence. And when Pillai became Union Home Secretary in 2009, who was Prime Minister? Dr Manmohan Singh, Rajya Sabha MP from Assam, then ‘representing’ the State in the highest lawmaking body in the country, its Parliament. The Congress, under the stewardship of Sonia Gandhi, was ruling the country at that point of time. And it was at that point of time, again, that the issue of constitutional safeguards was “reopened”, as Pillai has informed us of, only to “start setting up committees”. What has happened to these so-called committees? What is the work they have done, if any? Do these committees even realize the enormity of the problem? What sense of attachment do they have with the indigenous cause of Assam? Have they any concern for these people now so extremely threatened by illegal influx from Bangladesh that even their pristine xatra lands are being encroached upon by the marauding aliens right under the nose of the government of the day?
To come to what constitutes a national problem, let it be said here that it must be a problem that must belong to the nation as a whole; the nation as a whole – every single State of the Union – must begin to acknowledge the problem as its own too because it affects its people in one way or the other; those at the helm of affairs in Delhi must learn to see the problem as it is without rendering it any political hue (as it has happened all along) and then gather all the resources at their disposal to solve the problem once and for all. The NRC update is only a small beginning. The journey is a much longer one, far more precarious. For, we are now confronted with the issue of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 too, with people indigenous to Assam making it crystal clear that they will not, under any circumstances, allow anyone to ram the Bill down the Assamese throat. The message has gone out: “So far we have tolerated this influx that actually constitutes an act of external aggression; no long will we be taken for another politically motivated ride; for, no longer will we allow our own decimation in our own land, which is our land, and which must remain our living space, nothing less.”
It is incumbent on the BJP-led government at the Centre to not only declare illegal immigration from Bangladesh to Assam a major national problem posing one of the gravest security threats to the whole of the country, and not just Assam and the rest of the Northeast, but it is also imperative that the problem is taken head-on and resolved in one way or the other. Only, it is a matter of political will, of the choice to rise above vote bank considerations.