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View the Move with Caution

On Wednesday, the Centre announced that any further steps regarding the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 would be taken only after thorough consultations with all stakeholders, and efforts would be made to address the concerns of the State’s people in this regard. This agreement is reported to have been hammered out at a meeting chaired by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and attended by Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. The meeting was held at the North Block and was attended also by Union Home Secrertary Rajiv Gauba, Director Intelligence Bureau Rajiv Jain, Registrar General of India Sri Sailesh and Joint Director (Northeast) Satyendra Garg among others. The Assam Chief Minister was accompanied by several senior officers of the State. The one reaction that the people of Assam and the Northeast must avoid at all costs to such temporary and cosmetic devices of the Centre is undue euphoria over a tactic that is being used mainly to buy time. Let there be no illusions that our democratic government at the Centre has decided, out of due respect for the wishes of the people of Assam, to abandon the idea of enacting a black law that will doom the future of Assam and it people. There has never been any real goodwill of the Centre towards the people of Assam and the Northeast, and there has been no recent miracle of any kind to change the Centre’s attitude to India’s peripheral States. So the momentum with which the Bill is being opposed must be sustained with dedication till it is the strength of the people’s will and not the belated concern of the Centre for our future that results in the proposed black law being abandoned. Assam’s people now have to win a contest thrust on them without so much as a by-your-leave.

The total injustice foisted on the people of Assam by the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 has been dwelt on at some length by our media but will bear reiteration because the people of Assam must have this as the foremost item on their collective agenda. They must not forget that nothing that Assam rightly deserved to have has ever been conceded by the Centre without prolonged agitations and movements. We are unlikely to have any kind of thoughtfulness at a time when the ruling party at the Centre cannot see anything beyond votes. The first error committed by the Centre in respect of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is that it never informed the people of Assam that it was contemplating a black law aimed at them before planning to enact this new law. And yet we insist on claiming that we have a democracy. What gave our lawmakers the power to completely bypass the people before contemplating a law that would impact on the people of Assam and the Northeast. The Centre’s argument that the Bill was not selectively planned for any particular State will not cut any ice. The Centre cannot overlook the fact that the Bill was conceived with Hindu foreigners in mind. Even though it stipulates the minorities of six faiths from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, it has been drafted with the Hindus of Bangladesh (many of whom are already in India) in mind. Can New Delhi afford to ignore the ground realities of illegal migration from Bangladesh to India? Since our government is pathetically unaware of the total number of illegal foreign migrants in India, it may be useful to look at the diminishing percentage of Hindus in Bangladesh. In 1947, when we had Partition and Independence together, East Pakistan had a Hindu population of slightly over 33 per cent. In 1971, when Bangladesh was created from East Pakistan, the Hindu population of the country was about 22 per cent. Today the Hindus of Bangladesh constitute just a fraction over eight per cent of that country’s population. Millions of Bangladeshis (both Hindus and Muslims) are already in India illegally. Indian States that have a border with Bangladesh (especially Assam) have naturally borne the brunt of the millions of Bangladeshis who have illegally migrated to India over the years. If India now decides to make every Hindu migrating to India from Bangladesh an Indian citizen, India would be loaded with about 1.5 to 1.7 crore Bangladeshi Hindus. The bulk of such foreigner Hindus from Bangladesh will naturally make a beeline for Tripura, Bengal, Assam and the Northeast mainly because these Indian States are the closest to Bangladesh. It is amazing that New Delhi should keep pretending that it is unaware of what is happening to the eastern part India as a consequence of its callous neglect of a serious foreign immigration problem that has gone on unabated since the early 1960s. What is indeed astonishing is that in its countless bilateral meetings with the Bangladesh government, the government of India has never once brought up the issue of large-scale illegal migration to India from that country. It is this astonishing reticence of the government of India on such a major issue that emboldened Bangladesh High Commissioner Syed Muazzem Ali to claim on Thursday that there are no illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Assam.

Participating in an interaction at the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) in New Delhi on Thursday, Syed Muazzem Ali added that there was an arrangement between the two countries worked out to take back criminals and other like citizens who have overstayed in India. This is the kind of untruth that can be uttered in India by the High Commissioner of Bangladesh mainly because in all these decades, the government of India has not ever protested to Bangladesh about the large-scale illegal migration of Bangladeshi citizens to India. If India chooses to make this claim now, Bangladesh will be in the position to ask why India had not taken up the matter with Bangladesh in all these years. India probably realizes the folly of making the complaint now after all these years of silence. A typical case of the people being undone by their rulers in a democracy.

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Ankur Kalita