Can Modi Dare A Hindu Rashtra?
Even as India is celebrating its general elections to the 16th Lok Sabha with its commitment to the Constitution and the equality of all its citizens irrespective of religion, caste, language and ethnicity, a perilous trend has seemingly been witnessed in South Asia, where the ‘other’ has become the target of murderous politics. Nowhere is this more evident than in neighbouring Bangladesh and Pakistan, where the minority community has become the target of organised killings and rape.
BJP manifesto has clearly stated that India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome to seek refuge here. In his speeches made in the North East and Bengal, Modi had made it clear that India must distinguish between Hindu and Muslim migrants, economic refugees and religious refugees. The Party manifesto bore the imprints of pro Hindutva Murli Manohar Joshi, it was the first time that any political party had acknowledged the presence of illegal Bangladeshis immigrant in the country.
Modi has promised that as soon as the BJP comes to power, detention camps housing Hindu migrants from Bangladesh will be done away with. India has a responsibility toward Hindus who are harassed and suffer in other countries. Modi even said that the border states will not have to bear the brunt of these settlers. The BJP-led government would settle them across the country, like the government did to the Tibetan refugees.
Modi got carried away while making the remarks in Bankura on May 4, where he distinguished between Hindu and Muslim Bangladeshis immigrants. He said Hindus were “India’s sons, loved India, celebrated Durgashtami, and spoke Bengali, hence they should be treated in exactly the same way as the sons of India” while the Muslims were infiltrators, who come here as part of “vote-bank politics” and stole jobs from Indians.
Illegal migration from Bangladesh is a well-concerted strategy to alter the demographic profile of several Indian states. These migrants are easily identifiable and many of them can be deported back to Bangladesh legally. However, the primary need is to ensure a zero influx regime along the Indo-Bangladesh border, which can be achieved only by total fencing.
The assumption Modi made is that every Hindu migrant is a refugee while every Muslim one is an “infiltrator”, is a reminder of the central idea of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. Modi knew he was stirring a hornet’s nest and would be severely condemned not just by the EC but by other political parties and a large section of the voters. This was a calculated risk he had to take, but in the course of his speech he had gone too far. The irony is that the easiest way to help persecuted Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh who cross the border would be for India to accede to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Signatories are obliged not to send refugees back to countries where they have a well-founded fear of persecution—the principle of non-refoulement. To do this, Indian, like Israel, must proclaim itself a Hindu Rashtra first.
As expected, the first salvo was fired by Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who dared Modi to implement his promise of sending Bangladeshis packing after May 16 if his party came to power, saying that the ‘paper tiger’ should first meet the ‘Royal Bengal Tiger’. Claiming that the Gujarat Chief Minister did not know history, she said that Bangladeshis came to India under a pact signed in 1971 by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Bangladesh President Sheikh Mujibur Rehman.
Modi should take a pragmatic approach to the Bangladeshi problem. While making statements like “inviting Hindus to India” and “throwing out non-Hindu infiltrators”, he is simply playing into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh. He might just be making good election rhetoric, but the fact is, for the Hindus living in Bangladesh, this comes as a death knell. India first should finish the unfinished agenda of Partition and persecuted Hindus who want to come to India should be given a open arm. Likewise pro-Islamic Muslims who would like to stay in an Islamic state should be allowed to exit. Both Bengal and Assam have suffered due to excessive migration from across the border, but it is a fact that migration didn’t begin after 1971. The lines created to divide the subcontinent, especially in the east, were so superficial that they landed up literally dividing houses and families. Unlike Gujarat, there is no Rann of Kutch dividing the two Bengals or Assam from Bangladesh. The riverine border is porous, fencing is not complete and there is rampant infiltration.
The Union Minority Affairs Minister, K Rahman Khan, held the BJP and Modi responsible for the recent Assam violence on the minority community. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah blamed Modi for his comments on Bangladeshi immigrants and the simultaneous Assam violence. The USA, in spite of advanced technology and good resources has not been able to check illegal immigration which has increased by over 30 per cent between 2000 and 2012. The recent figures say that 58 per cent of the illegal migrants in the US are from Mexico. Both countries share a 2,000-kilometre long border, far less than the Indo-Bangladesh border, both in length and topographical complexities, but the influx goes on.
Sheikh Hasina had recently said in Myanmar “a rise in one degree Celsius due to global warming would submerge a fifth of Bangladesh, forcing 30 million people to become ‘climate migrants’”. Since Myanmar isn’t an option, much of this migration would eventually happen into India. We have to impose practical policies which should include issuing of work permits to migrants. Let’s hope that Modi’s statements are simply not high-flying rhetoric.