In its latest “Annual Report”, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has admitted that checking illegal migration from Bangladesh is a major challenge “considering the porous nature of the international border”. But then, it is only one part of the story. Here, the government wants us to convey that it is trying its best to check the illegal immigration, but that is proving to be a difficult task given the nature of the border that features “riverine areas, hills and jungles”. But then, there is another part of the story which the present UPA government does not say fully. And that is the fact that it is afraid of taking any remedial measures, let alone preventive steps, in deporting back the “illegal Bangladeshis” in India.
In a written reply in the Rajya Sabha on March 21, 2012, Minister of State for Home Affairs Mullappally Ramachandran said: “There are reports of Bangladeshi nationals having settled in India without valid travel documents. As entry of such Bangladeshi nationals into the country is clandestine and surreptitious, it is not possible to have a correct estimate of such illegal immigrants living in the country. A number of Bangladeshi nationals who have entered into the country on valid travel documents have been found to be overstaying. As per information available, 28,667 Bangladeshi nationals were found to be overstaying as on December 31, 2010.”
What about the number of those Bangladeshis who have entered illegally? Here, the UPA government is prevaricating. For instance, Ramachandran was quoted as having said sometime in 2011 that “almost 1.4-million illegal Bangladeshis have migrated to India over the past decade alone”. But Home Minister P Chidambaram has suggested on many occasions that there is no official number of the illegal Bangladeshis and that the cited numbers are only “estimates”. And this despite the fact that on July 14, 2004, in reply to an unstarred question in Parliament, the then Union Minister of State for Home Shriprakash Jaiswal had stated that out of 1,20,53,950 illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators all over India, 50,00,000 Bangladeshi were present in Assam alone as on December 31, 2001. West Bengal topped the list with 57, 00,000 Bangladeshis. The figures were based on Intelligence Bureau reports”.
Another Indian Home Minister, the late Indrajit Gupta (a veteran Communist), had disclosed in Parliament on May 6, 1997, that “there were upwards of ten million illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators who have made India their home”. The late JN Dixit, a Foreign Secretary and National Security Advisor of India, wrote in 2000: “We have definite information that between seven to nine million Bangladeshi foreign nationals have not only migrated illegally but also registered into India.” And an Indian Home Ministry estimate prepared in 2001 had said: “Approximately, 150-170 lakh Bangladeshi infiltrators have crossed into India illegally since 1971.”
My sources in the IB say that at present, there must be at least 30 to 40 millions of illegal Bangladeshis in India. They have silently invaded India, but our “secular” government at the Centre will have nothing to do with it. And this despite the fact that the then Governor of Assam Lt. Gen (Retd.) SK Sinha had authored a “Report” in 1998 and titled it “Illegal Migration into Assam”. This “Report” was submitted to the President of India. In it, the Governor “warned that if the present trends are not arrested, the indigenous people of Assam would be reduced to a minority and there may, in course of time, be a demand for the merger of Muslim-dominated bordering districts with Bangladesh”. Governor’s report called the infiltration a “national threat”. This assessment, it is important to note, has been shared subsequently by the Assam High Court and the Supreme Court of India.
It may be noted here that the Muslim population in Assam in between 1971 and 1991 increased 77.42 per cent as against the figure of 41.89 per cent by the Hindus. In between 1991 and 2001, the corresponding figures were 29.3 per cent for Muslims and 14.95 for Hindus. It is not surprising therefore that today, out of the total 24 districts of Assam, six districts have 60 per cent Muslim population while another six have above 40 per cent of them. And, out of the 126 assembly seats, election of 54 MLAs (Members of Legislative Assembly) depends on the Muslim vote bank. And all this has been due to the influx of the illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. In fact, the trend is similar in West Bengal. In between 1981 and 1991, the census figure shows that the Muslim population in the state rose by 36.67 per cent as against that of 21.05 per cent of Hindus. And in between 1991 and 2001, the corresponding figures were 26.1 per cent for Muslims and 14.26 per cent for Hindus.
Coming back to Assam, it is becoming increasingly evident that because of illegal Bangladeshi voters, the political landscape of the state is set for a big change. The illegal voters are about to not only pose a serious threat to the socio-cultural identity and stability of the State, but may also be in a position to form their Government and have their own Chief Minister. The threat was clearly enunciated when on July 23, 2008, the Guwahati High Court stated in a judgment: “Bangladeshis have become kingmakers in Assam.”
Whatever the reasons behind the huge number of Bangladeshi nationals in India, experts say that their overall presence in the country, and the east and northeast regions in particular, is shattering of the socio-economic balance in the region, not to speak of distorting the region’s politics. Illegal immigrants not only occupy char areas in the riverine belt, but also lead to the growth of unauthorised settlements on government lands, agricultural lands, grazing reserves and forest areas. They compete with genuine Indians for jobs, thereby worsening the already serious unemployment problem.
Besides, Indian intelligence officials have often complained that Pakistan has fished in the troubled water in the sense that it, with active grassroots- support of Harakat ul-Jihad-I-Islami-Bangladesh (HUJI-B), Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad (all are notorious fundamentalist terrorist outfits in South Asia ), has used its “agents” under the guise of immigrants to exacerbate the communal disharmony between the Hindus and Muslims in parts of the country and promote secessionist- terrorist activities. Besides, many of these immigrants have indulged in smuggling, trafficking, drug peddling, illegal cow smuggling and trans-border gang robbery.
Interestingly, there is also a linkage between immigration from Bangladesh and the division of British India in 1947. This is particularly true in the case of Assam. There were serious attempts at the time of partition to see that Assam went to Pakistan, because always people over-populated East Bengal (which became part of Pakistan) had traditionally migrated to Assam for work. And this trend continued even after partition. So much so that the Muslim population in Assam, which was about 190,0000 in 1947, increased to about 360,0000 within 25 years of Independence by 1972. In 1971, Bangladesh emerged as a sovereign nation after liberation war against Pakistan with the help of Indian Army. But its first Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman remained consistent with his views that, “without the inclusion of Assam the East Bengal economy could not be balanced”.
In fact, right since Pakistan’s inception in 1947, its geopolitical design has been to promote “Muslim expansionism” in Assam and balkanise India on the basis of religion. ZA Bhutto had spelt out this design as far back as 1968. The late Prime Minister of Pakistan wrote about the geo-political aims of Pakistan in his book, The Myth of Independence. He argued: “It would be wrong to think that Kashmir is the only dispute that divides India and Pakistan, though it is undoubtedly the most significant one, at least is nearly as important as the Kashmir dispute is that of ASSAM and some districts adjacent to East Pakistan.”
It is not that Indian political leadership and officials are unaware of the problem, but then they, particularly the Congress (including Trinamool Congress of Mamata Banerjee, now Chief Minister of West Bengal) and the Communists, who between them, have dominated the politics of West Bengal and Assam, have tended to ignore it, the reason being “vote bank politics’. They have even tried to circumvent the Supreme Court which has struck down the Assam-specific IMDT (Illegal Migration Determination Tribunal) Act. When Assam vote-bank politics dictated passage of the Foreigners’ (Tribunals for Assam) Order, 2006, the Supreme Court struck it down again.
The courts say that India cannot have two different sets of laws to detect illegal immigration. After all, the normal laws of the country say that the onus of proving “citizenship” is always on the accused. But the UPA government wants a different law for Assam where the burden of proving the citizenship or otherwise rests on the accuser and the police. And it justifies this absurdity (rather “illegality”) on grounds of providing “special protections” against undue harassment to the “minorities”.
What a perverse logic, which is nothing but highly communal in a secular country such as ours!
By Prakash Nanda