DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
The issue of illegal Bangladeshi migration in Assam was among the subjects raised forcefully by several political parties during the just concluded State Assembly elections. Samujjal Bhattacharya, Adviser of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), said the voters list on the basis of which the latest State Assembly polls were held, contained mes of a large number of illegal Bangladeshi migrants. He said the “Bangladeshi lobby” was geared up to vote in an organised manner. The BJP called the 2016 Assembly polls as “the last battle of Saraighat” and said the polls were a fight for the preservation of the identity of Assam’s indigenous people.
There is no doubt that there are illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Assam. I am also quite certain that the mes of such illegal Bangladeshi migrants figure even today in the State’s voters’ list. But what is significant is that the issue of illegal migration is propelled centre-stage only during elections in Assam because it suits political parties and certain political forces.
If the AASU knew that the voters list on which the 2016 Assembly polls were held contained mes of a large number of illegal Bangladeshi migrants, why did it not move the Election Commission to postpone the polls? So what, if the Tarun Gogoi government’s term was coming to an end and a new government was required to be put in place? Assam could have been under President’s rule until a voters list, free from illegal migrants, was prepared. What is to be noted is that neither the BJP, nor its ally, the AGP, had any problem in contesting the polls on the basis of the latest voters list.
For the last 30 years, the issue of illegal Bangladeshi migration has been raised by political parties in Assam without any serious attempt at addressing the problem. In the past 15 years, the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government in the State did nothing to press the Centre to make Bangladesh agree that such a problem exists in states like Assam. After all, unless Dhaka recognizes the problem, the question of Bangladesh taking back its tiols declared as illegal migrants by the Indian legal system does not arise.
To put things simply, deporting people declared as illegal migrants by the Indian judiciary is not going to be an easy task. Of course, as the BJP has promised in its election vision document, it is possible to ‘seal’ the border and stop fresh infiltration of people from Bangladesh. To actually halt further infiltration, certain other measures like a second line of defence along the border by settling ex-serviceman and things like that will be necessary.
Assuming that fresh infiltration is stopped, how are we going to look at or deal with the issue of Bangladeshi migration? Are we going to bracket every Bengali-speaking Muslim settler who lives in the Char areas as ‘Bangladeshi’? The new government in Assam will have to address this issue right from day one and try to resolve it once and for all. The first task of the new government would be to make a clear distinction between Muslim settlers who are Indian tiols by virtue of the provisions of the Assam Accord as well as other Constitutiol provisions, like tiolity by birth, and those of doubtful citizenship.
Once this distinction is made, the new government must draw up a road-map to provide education, healthcare, connectivity and power to the areas where the settlers are concentrated. If the sense of deprivation among these people continues, they may fall prey to anti-India forces who may try to exploit their vulnerability. We do not want a new security situation in Assam, nor do we want social tensions with a new dimension. I hope, the leaders of Assam’s new government will address the issue and not try to brush it aside.