Following its landslide victory in the May-2019 Lok Sabha [General Assembly] elections, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) top leadership are under tremendous pressure from Rashtriya Swamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Shib Sena (SS) for immediately beginning the process of expelling over four million Muslims from India. Those pressure groups are reminding Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of his electoral pledge of 2014 when he specifically committed to the voters of expelling all the “illegal immigrants” from India.
Earlier, during an election campaign, the head of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist party took his invective against illegal Muslim immigrants to a new level this week as the general election kicked off, promising to throw them into the Bay of Bengal.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah referred to such illegal immigrants as “termites”, a description he also used last September, when he drew condemnation from rights groups. The US State Department also noted the remark in its annual human rights report.
“Infiltrators are like termites in the soil of Bengal,” Shah said on at a rally in West Bengal.
“A Bharatiya Janata Party government will pick up infiltrators one by one and throw them into the Bay of Bengal,” he said, referring to illegal immigrants from neighboring Muslim-majority Bangladesh.
Shah nevertheless reiterated the BJP’s stance on giving citizenship to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs from Bangladesh and Pakistan.
India is already working on deporting an estimated 40,000 Rohingya Muslims living in the country after fleeing Buddhist-majority Myanmar. New Delhi considers them a security threat.
According to a credible source in New Delhi, the expulsion of Rohingyas from India has already started several months back and they are being pushed into Bangladesh in batches. It said, up to now, over five thousand illegal Rohingyas have already been pushed into Bangladesh.
When reminded, such pushing-in of illegal Rohingyas into Bangladesh would jeopardize existing warm relations between Dhaka and New Delhi and Rohingyas should be sent back to Myanmar, the source said, they do not want to spoil relations with Myanmar as there are prospects of massive economic cooperation, and since Rohingyas are Muslims so Bangladesh should bear this burden.
During his campaign in 2016, Narendra Modi vowed to disenfranchise millions of Muslim immigrants in Assam.
From 1979 to 1985, the Assam movement proved to be the foundation stone that laid the basis for the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC). More than 4 million people were excluded from the draft list of citizens released last year.
Spearheading that movement was Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, a former chief minister of Assam and former president of the All Assam Students Union (AASU). The campaign culminated in the signing of the Assam Accord by the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and Mahanta. In an interview, Mahanta shared his views on illegal immigration and the NRC with an Indian news outlet. Here are the excerpts:
Q: What was the genesis of the Assam movement?
A: After the 1950 earthquake of Assam, people lost their land, agriculture income decreased and the economy had taken a beating. The Assam movement was started in 1979 and the Assam Accord was signed. As per the provisions of the accord, they (illegal immigrants) should be detected and deported from India. Assam has sacrificed a lot and I don’t think Assam should be required to sacrifice anymore.
When the agreement was signed on 15 August 1985, it was observed that Assam’s population had skyrocketed because of the infiltration from Bangladesh. So a provision was made to filter out the illegal immigration that had taken place from Bangladesh.
A struggle to recapture resources is what sparked off the movement and the Assam movement was started. It was realized that at the time of the revision of the electoral roll more than 70,000 names of foreigners had appeared on that list and the names of the Bangladeshi people had made their way into the electoral rolls of Assam. Therefore, the electoral rolls should be revised and their names should be deleted. That was when the Assam movement started. But the first NRC was prepared in 1951 and, at that time, there was no objection. In 1985, when the then prime minister (Rajiv Gandhi) called us for a discussion, we put forth the demand that an NRC should be prepared in Assam for Indian citizens. Now, the Supreme Court (SC) has been monitoring it and, as per the SC’s directive, people of Assam will be correctly mentioned in the NRC.
Q: Does the NRC serve as a band-aid solution to the state’s problems?
A: Once things are on track with the NRC process, the state and central governments should work more on communication and education sectors in Assam. The centre also needs to come forward because Assam has abundant natural resources like oil and tea gardens.
Q: As of now, the process has excluded 4 million people. Estimates suggest around 2 million people will be left out of the final list. However, people claim that legitimate cases have also been left out. Is the process really fair?
A: Such cases are different in different areas. There are cases where there are MLAs (members of legislative assembly) whose names have not appeared. There are allegations that immigrants from Bangladesh who migrated after 1971 have been included. There are several controversial statements that are doing the rounds. We just want that the final list should be published and it should include the names of all legitimate Indian citizens. As per the provisions of the Assam Accord, those who came to India before 24 March 1971 should be treated as citizens.
Q: Once the final NRC is out, how will the state take care of the displaced, since we are not immediately labelling them as foreigners?
A: The question of detention centres is different. Why should Assam alone be a dumping ground? At the time of independence, too, Assam had taken in lakhs of foreigners who migrated from East Pakistan and during the 1965 war, too, we absorbed immigrants. The same thing happened after the 1975 war, when refugees started living in Assam. There are other states, too, so why should they not share the burden? Assam alone is not a part of India.
Q: Has Assam witnessed any law and order issues because of illegal immigration?
A: It has created major law and order issues. First, the illegal migrants enrolled their names in the electoral rolls, then they started grabbing land of the ethnic Assamese and the indigenous people started suffering especially in areas such as Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, etc. This entire issue is not a religious issue at all. It is an ethnic issue and it is the duty of the government of India to see this through to its logical end.
Q: After the release of the final NRC draft on 30 July, 2018 West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said that the Bengalis were being discriminated against. Your thoughts?
A: What she has said is not correct. A lot of the Bengali-speaking people have been living in Assam because they had migrated at the time of the British rule and during the partition. A large number of the Bengali people have been here and none of the Assamese have ever created any trouble. I think an NRC should be prepared for West Bengal as well, because that is when the problem of illegal migrants taking refuge in West Bengal will also be solved.