Text of the Speech Delivered at Bengaluru on 01-09-12
We all must be evergrateful to the All Assam Students Union and it’s leaders like Prafulla Mahonta and Sarvananda Sonowal. It was they, as young men and women some 30 years ago, who fought against the illegal migration from Bangladesh into Assam and the rest of India. These youngmen in their 20s and 30s sacrificed their education, their careers and even their lives in order to secure our Motherland and it’s integrity. But for the massive agitation launched by them in late 70s and early 80s the country would have been blissfully ignorant of the dangerous threat to its North East; but for their movement we would probably have lost the NE by now forever to the foreigners.
The problem of illegal migration from Bangladesh, which is at the root of many ills plaguing the North East including the recent Bodoland clashes, has today acquired humongous proportions. We all know that the North East comprising the Seven Sisters – Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura – is a land of nature’s bounty. It is also strategically a very important region for us, whose borders touch four countries – Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Tibet/China.
This strategic region of the NE is linked to rest of India through a tenuous land link called the Siliguri Corridor. Various agencies like the Chinese, the ISI, the CIA are all active in the region. Various terrorist groups operate under their patronage in different states of the region.
Singularly important problem in the NE is the illegal migration/infiltration from Bangladesh. None has the actual data. But estimates – official or otherwise – put the numbers anywhere between 20 million to 30 million Bangladeshis in India, one third of whom have made the NE as their home.
Bangladesh is the world’s most densely populated country with 982 persons/sq. km. Our NE states have just 215 persons/sq. km. Additionally Bangladesh is one country that has exported tens of millions of its people to other countries. Besides those who infiltrated into India a whopping 15 million Bangladeshis live in other countries of the world. This amounts to more than half of the population of Bangladesh.
We must first of all accept and bear in mind that we are dealing with this kind of a humongous problem. Our tragedy is that a section of our political and intellectual leadership is not willing to accept the real dimensions of this problem. The issue of infiltration from Bangladesh is mired in controversies mostly on account of vote bank politics and pseudo-secular and pseudo-humanitarian pseudo-intellectualism. Result is that we are not able to have one solid opinion on any dimension of this problem.
Is infiltration by Bangladeshis into our country a political problem? We witness constant somersaults on the issue. In 90s Hiteswar Saikia, the then Chief Minister of Assam declared on the floor of the House that there were 3 million Bangladeshis in Assam. Immediately pressure was mounted on him from leaders in Delhi. Within one week he made a complete u-turn, this time claiming that there was not a single Bangladeshi in his State.
This continues even to this day. Tarun Gogoi, the Chief Minister of Assam today, is known for speaking in different tongues on this issue. One day he will say that there is no place for Bangladeshis in Assam; another day he would say that there are no Bangladeshis in Assam at all. Several other political parties too exhibit this lack of conviction and political will to openly declare that there is a never-ending influx of infiltration from Bangladesh into our country.
Usurping Assam has been on the agenda of successive leaders of Pakistan and Bangladesh for decades. Jinnah, the architect of partition of Bharat, visited Guwahati in 1946 and expressed full confidence in his speech that the city would certainly become a part of his dream country Pakistan. In fact he tried to use his proximity to the British leadership to bring Assam and East Bengal into one group so that he could take away the entire region at the time of Partition. Congress leadership was too indifferent to see through this dangerous game plan and in fact it almost acquiesced to the proposal. But for the alert intervention of Gopinath Bardoloi, senior Congress leader from Assam, who later became the first Chief Minister of Assam, the State would have fallen in the hands of Jinnah. It was Bardoloi who opposed the move to group Assam with East Bengal thus saving the state from slipping out of Bharat.
In the preceding years of Partition a systematic effort was made to alter the demography of Assam in order to make it easy to take it away. Md. Sadulla, the then premier of Assam and East Bengal, deliberately encouraged migration of Muslim farmers into Assam in the name of supplementing the British efforts to increase rice production in the region in order to ward off the repeat of drought. Lord Wavell, the British Viceroy, had commented that in the name of growing more rice Sadullah was indulging in growing more Muslims.
The Pakistan leadership had never given up on their agenda on Assam. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in his book “Myth of Independence” wrote, “It would be wrong to think that Kashmir is the only dispute that divides India and Pakistan. One at least is nearly as important as the Kashmir dispute, that of Assam and some districts of India adjacent to East Pakistan. To these, Pakistan has very good claims. East Pakistan must include Assam to be financially and economically strong”.
Even Sheik Mujibur Rehman, who owed everything to India without whose support he wouldn’t have succeeded in carving out Bangladesh, too nurtured the ambition of annexing at least parts of Assam if not full. In his book Eastern Pakistan – It’s Population and Economics he asserted:
“East Pakistan must have land for its expansion and because Assam has abundant forests, mineral resources, coal, petroleum etc. Eastern Pakistan must include Assam to be economically and financially strong.”
The infiltration from Bangladesh must be seen in this backdrop. Bangladeshis today became a deciding factor in about 200 Assembly and 25 Parliament seats. 11 Districts in Assam have become partially or fully Bangladeshi Muslim majority. 4 districts in W. Bengal are close to halfway mark in number of Bangladeshis. Even in the national capital Delhi, right under the nose of our Government, 1.6 million Bangladeshis live all over.
There is a political party in Assam by name United National Front of Assam. It’s leader is one Maulana by name Badruddin Ajmal. Ajmal’s party is described by many as the party of infiltrators. He himself is a Member of Parliament from Dhubri, which is 70% Bangladeshi constituency. That means he can never be defeated by any Indian.
Ajmal is accused of fanning communal tensions in Bodoland area that culminated in huge clashes. He is also allegedly the main financier of Raza Academy which organised the Mumbai protests leading to violence. Ajmal’s party is the main opposition party in Assam Assembly today, winning 18 seats in 2009 elections leaving the BJP and the AGP far behind. Ajmal nurtures the dream of winning double the number of seats in next election and with the help of ‘friendly’ co-religionists in other parties capture power in the state that has just 121 Assembly seats.
That the infiltrators enjoy immunity, if not protection, from the ruling establishment became clear once again when the Assam administration chose to arrest Pradeep Brahma, a Bodo MLA, for the violence but didn’t touch Ajmal in spite of demands for the same by many. In fact it is this kind of politics of power and vote banks that have been the bane of our country and blessing for the illegal citizens.
Is it demographic invasion?
Just as we refuse to see the political dimensions of the infiltration we refuse to accept that no country allows its territories to become victims of silent demographic invasion. ‘Demography is destiny’ is the dictum every country follows, of course except us. No other country has so much experience as we do and paid so much price as we did due to demographic imbalances. The country was partitioned primarily on demographic grounds. Partition was not peaceful – millions had lost their lives while tens of millions had become hapless refugees. One of the largest mass migrations in human history was witnessed in 1947 for the simple reason of demographic differences.
Yet we don’t understand the gravity of the emerging scenario due to unabating influx of Bangladeshi infiltrators. The community-wise growth rate given as under will give us a better picture of communal imbalance being created in Assam by the immigration of Bangladeshis :-
1951-1961. Hindus. 33.71 Muslims. 38.35
1991-2001. Hindus 44.08. Muslims 89.25
In 1991 census, four districts of Assam namely Dhubri, Goalpara, Barpeta and Hailakandi became Muslim majority districts. Two more districts; Nagaon and Karimganj have attained Muslim majority in 1998.
The tribal population of Tripura, which was 93 percent in 1947 has been reduced to a minority of 23 percent of its 31.9 million population today.
As per the Home Ministry and IB estimates approx 54 lakh Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants are settled in West Bengal.
Lest we forget, the Election Commission of Bangladesh had declared around this time that a couple of million voters were ‘missing’ from their country.
In India as well as in Bangladesh there are many intellectuals who try to project it as a humanitarian issue. In fact some intellectuals in Bangladesh have gone to the extent of describing this migration as ‘Lebensraum’. This is a German word meaning ‘Living Space’. In his book Mein Kampf, Hitler detailed his belief that the growing population of the German people needed Lebensraum (“living space”), and that it should be found in Eastern Europe. It was the stated policy of the Nazis to kill, deport, or enslave the Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, and other Slavic populations, whom they considered inferior, and to repopulate the land with Germanic people.
This Fascist argument is now being forwarded by our intellectuals in the garb of humanitarianism.
No country tolerates such illegal migration. Through the “Secure Fence Act of 2006” the USA has by law started fencing its borders with Mexico. By 2010 it has completed 1200 kms of border fencing almost covering all hospitable terrains.
Although China is a great friend of North Korea it nevertheless is building a strong barrier on its border to prevent illegal infiltrators from entering Chinese territory. Recently the Chinese administration has announced a 100-Yuan reward to the whistle-blowers on illegal infiltrators. It passed a new law pronouncing much harsher punishment for illegal migrants.
What is interesting to note is that while many million Bangladeshis infiltrate into India they hardly dare to enter China although the countries – Bangladesh and China – have been great friends.
In Myanmar nearly a million Rohingya Muslims, who are originally from Bangladesh and live on the western border of the country, have been treated for decades as non-citizens without any citizens’ rights.
Even Muslim countries don’t tolerate this nonsense. The Malaysian government has recently revoked the visas of about 70,000 Bangladeshi migrants. There was a news item a few years ago that Saudi Arabia had forcibly deported some 600 Bangladeshis who were found overstaying.
What is the status of our laws with regard to infiltration? Firstly the Foreigners’ Act, which was meant to deal with this problem, hardly can cope with the very magnitude of it. In the 80’s, especially after the massacre of Nellie in Assam in 1983 in which some 2000 people, mostly the infiltrators, were killed, the Government of Smt. India Gandhi had brought in the infamous Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunal Act, popularly known as the IMDT Act.
By the nomenclature it sounds as though it was meant to prevent infiltration. But in reality the Act was designed in such a way that it actually turned out to be the Illegal Migrants Protection Act. While under the Foreigners Act the government agencies are empowered to investigate and act against illegal immigrants upon receiving any information, under the IMDT Act the onus of proving that a said person is an illegal immigrant rested on the complainant. What is worse, the complainant had to pay a certain amount before complaining. This Act had thus become a boon for the infiltrators because Assam was excluded from the jurisdiction of the Foreigners’ Act and placed under this Act.
In spite of this adverse nature of the Act between 1983 and 2000 a total of over 3 lac complaints came before the Tribunal out of which around 10,000 were found true; but less than 1500 deported. Governor of Assam Lt. Gen. Ajai Singh had sent confidential report to the Union Home Ministry on infiltration in 2005 in which he claimed that about 6000 people sneak into Assam from Bangladesh everyday. When this report got leaked out into media partially he was reported to have amended his statement by saying that 6000 people cross over into India every day.
This is mind boggling. 6000 infiltrators enter every day while we send back 1 infiltrator every 4-5 days. Now, the Government figures suggest that a whopping 750 crore rupees had been spent on this great job of deporting 1400+ infiltrators.
While this being the state of affairs, the IMDT Act in the meantime became a symbol of India’s much-maligned pseudo-secularism. Parties started vying with each other to safeguard this grossly anti-national Act. Even the BJP as the lead Party of the NDA could do specious little to scrap this Act because of the same political compulsions. When the Supreme Court, acting upon the petition of Sarvananda Sonowal of the AGP, asked the NDA regime to repeal the Act it submitted before the Court it’s inability due to lack of numbers in the Upper House. However it did agree with the Court’s view that the IMDT Act must go. Finally it fell on the Court to scrape it.
What shocked everybody was the cynical and diabolical attempt by the UPA 1 government in 2005 to circumvent and defeat the spirit of the Supreme Court judgment on IMDT by amending the Foreigners’ Act so as to allow the same detrimental provisions of the IMDT Act a back door entry into it. Fortunately an alert Supreme Court intervened again and strike down the amendments as illegal. This one incident shows vividly how shameless and irresponsible our political system has become in handling such sensitive issues.
We are not realising that infiltration is a huge security issue as well. Our intelligence agencies have definite information that more than 150 ISI training camps run in Bangladesh. Under the previous regime of Begum Khalida Zia in Bangladesh all the insurgent groups of the North East like the ULFA, Kantipur National Army, NLFT etc have had safe havens in the bordering regions in that country. Fortunately the present regime in Bangladesh under Sheik Hasina has been helping India in weeding out these elements. But the fact remains that infiltration is a major security threat to our country.
This infiltration is putting a lot of pressure on our internal security machinery. The agencies come under increased pressure in all the cities where the Bangladeshis live in large numbers. Their illegal colonies become the hub of all terrorist and anti-national activities. Besides this, normal policing too faces increased pressure due to the presence of these foreigners. In cities like Delhi many crimes like dacoity, robbery, murder etc are traced in several cases to these infiltrators.
This issue of infiltration must be dealt at the diplomatic level also. We need to take up the issue with the counterparts in Bangladesh. However it is a sad commentary of diplomacy that our side never presses this matter forcefully with Bangladesh. It is not that we don’t discuss important issues regarding this region bilaterally. As recently as early this year India and Bangladesh have arrived at a pathbreaking border delimitation agreement under which Indian side has conceded around 10,000 hectors of territory to Bangladesh. Even while demonstrating such magnanimity the Indian side has not demanded that Bangladesh reciprocate by taking effective measures to curb infiltration.
For sometime now the Bangladesh officials are taking a strange belligerent line of argument. There are no illegal Bangladeshis in India, they insist arguing that those who own a ration card and voter identity card of India can’t be called Bangladeshi nationals. It is a clever, yet hollow argument. But it does point out the ugly political reality in our country where the infiltrators are not seen as a security risk but as vote banks.
In any case the stand of Bangladesh on the issue of illegal migrants seems to be downright negationism. Whenever the BSF tries to push back infiltrators the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) refuses to let them in saying they are not their nationals.
Sometime back the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina rather curtly told British Secretary of International Development Affairs Andrew Mitchell in London, that ‘countries including Britain, which are concerned over the Rohingya issue, should hold talks with Myanmar instead of putting pressure on Bangladesh’.
While the apologists for infiltrators in India put forth the humanitarianism argument the leadership of the very country to which they belong doesn’t betray any humanitarian concern for them.
Is it a religious issue also? We are hammered by our pseudo-intelligentsia and media that it shouldn’t be seen as a religious issue. We too agree that the issue is essentially about infiltrators. But does the other side also see it that way? The Muslim League of Bangladesh, which had a field day under Khalida Zia’s regime, spews venom against Hindus and India. It aggressively campaigns for Jihad to takeover the districts of Assam.
In our country too how can we explain the reaction of Muslims in Mumbai, Ranchi, Allahabad, Lucknow, Hyderabad etc? It is they who make it into a Hindu-Muslim issue. The insidious campaign that was unleashed in the wake of clashes in Bodoland is an affront on the entire North East. It was propagated as though the land of Shankar Dev had become a land of anti-Muslim marauders. Calls were given by clerics for street demonstrations against what they portrayed as ‘anti-Muslim pogrom’. Funds were collected in each and every mosque in the name of supporting the brethren of Umma.
Who makes it into a religious issue then? Why teach others about not communalising the issue while the Muslim leadership in the country is openly and blatantly making it into a communal one? Asaduddin Owaisi, a Member of Parliament known for his rabid communalist views, openly threatened on the floor of Lok Sabha that a third wave of radicalisation of Muslim youths will soon start. According to him the first two waves were post-Ayodhya and post-Gujarat.
It is significant, in this context, to note that, Lafikul Islam, the ‘publicity secretary’ of the All Bodoland Muslim Student’s Union (ABMSU), had warned the state government on July 7, 2012, that, if the ‘culprits’ of the violence of July 6, 2012, were not arrested within 24 hours the ABMSU would declare jehad and take up arms.
Such open and blatant communalist banalities are pushed under the carpet in our country while Hindus are routinely pontificated about treating it as a secular and humanitarian issue.
How can we explain the solidarity of Indian Muslims with the Bangladeshi infiltrators in India or in Myanmar – the Rohingyas? We must not forget the fact that under Islam the entire Muslim world is one single Umma – nation. Islam doesn’t recognise any other national boundaries. Additionally there is this concept of Hijra – migration of Muslims to greener pastures. ‘Whole world is a big Mosque for you’, declared the Prophet and ordained his people to go anywhere and called upon the fellow-religionists that it is their religious obligation to support them.
It is another matter that the Saudis, the Malaysians and even the Bangladeshis themselves don’t recognise this principle when it comes to their own lands.
What needs to be done now to remedy the situation?
Firstly, under the Assam Accord of 1986 the Government of India was to revise the National Register of Citizens adjusting it with the census data of 1971. That year has been agreed upon as the cut-off year for identifying infiltrators. Those who entered India illegally after 1971 will be treated as infiltrators and sent back. Since this Accord of 1986 succeeded the IMDT Act it should have prevailed over the Act in detecting and deporting them.
But like the IMDT Act there occurred a fiasco on the issue of National Register of Citizens too. Under the pressure of the Supreme Court, the centre in 2005 decided to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) ‘within two years’, on the basis of the 1971 rolls. But the exercise never took off for reasons known only to the governments. On April 22, 2009, during the tripartite discussions between the Central and State governments, and the All Assam Students Union (AASU), the government promised to initiate NRC updates in two revenue circles, Chaygaon in Kamrup district and Barpeta revenue circle in Barpeta district. The process commenced on June 7, 2010, as a pilot project, but almost immediately ran into trouble, with ‘law and order problems’ surfacing in Barpeta. On July 21, 2010, protestors under the banner of the Barpeta district unit of the All Assam Muslim Students Union (AAMSU), demonstrated violently outside the Deputy Commissioner’s Office, demanding a halt to the process. Police eventually opened fire, killing four and injuring 50. While no official suspension was announced, the ‘pilot project’ stood abandoned from that time on.
On March 26, 2012, the government announced the ‘decision’ to re-launch the Registrar General of Citizens’ Registration pilot project to update the NRC in three phases from July 1, 2012. Once again the AAMSU, with 24 other ‘minority organizations’, started issuing threats of agitation against this decision. The process has not begun till date.
The first requirement is to complete the process of identifying legal citizens of our country by revising the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Then comes the question of detecting and deporting the infiltrators. A national consensus eludes in this matter too because of the Minority vote bank politics. The least that we should agree upon is to detect and disenfranchise the infiltrators. The Rohingyas of Myanmar are an example. Some 800,000 Rohingya Muslims, who are infiltrators from Bangladesh, live illegally on the western coast of Myanmar. The Myanmar government treats them as infiltrators only and refuses to extend citizens’ rights to them. The least that we can do is to declare infiltrators as illegal citizens and deny them rights like voting, housing, ration etc.
Irrespective of whether it yield results or not we should continue to exert pressure on Bangladesh to take back these infiltrators.
Another important measure to take is to seal our borders. India and Bangladesh share 4096 km long border. A feeble attempt has been made after a lot of pressure to build fencing along the border. Less than 1/4th of the border fencing only could be completed till date. Even that fencing is found very fragile and easy to break at a lot of places.
It costs Rs three crores per km to effectively police this border, i.e., on account of manning of border by policing force, construction and maintenance of border roads, border fencing, riverine patrols, watchtowers and so on. Over three scores of battalions of Border Security Force are presently policing the border which is woefully inadequate. For effective domination and policing requirement is well over 100 battalions. The government has been able to fence only 987 km of this border till now. Rs. 2300 crores are being spent every year in guarding this border. (WB-2217 Kms, Assam-262 Kms, Meghalaya-443 Kms, Tripura-856 Kms, Mizoram-318 Kms).
Last but not the least, we need to silence the apologists and supporters of these illegal migrants among the politicians, intellectuals and the clergymen. The tragedy is that the Government, in stead, wants to silence the patriotic voices by shutting down Twitter accounts etc.
That brings us to the critical point – the political will. We need leaders who have the political will to tackle this menace even if it required some ruthlessness. What we need is a stern State; not a soft and measly one that we see today. Then only the people of the NE and the rest of the country can sleep peacefully.