Deluge from Bangladesh

- By Balbir K. Punj, April 2005

Diagnosis is half the cure, but late diagnosis is a forecast of fatality. We donít know which part applies to the issue of Bangladeshi infiltration. First, a classified report of Assam governor Ajai Singh to the union home ministry got leaked to the media (Assam govt. in crisis over governorís report, The Tribune, Chandigarh, April 14, 2005). According to it, 6,000 Bangladeshis are daily infiltrating into Assam across the worldís most porous border. They are not only threatening the demographic character of Assam, but could facilitate bases for the ISI network and terrorist organisations like Al Qaeda.

Secondly, the infiltration issue also dominated the chief ministerís conference on April 15 in New Delhi. There was a chorus of complaints from the chief ministers of not only the eastern states of West Bengal, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram, but also a western state like Maharashtra. These states are feeling demographically threatened by the avalanche of infiltration from Bangladesh. Remarkably, none of these states is ruled by the BJP, which has been stigmatised by the "secularists" for highlighting this smouldering problem.

Any mention of Bangladeshi infiltration, like the higher reproductive rate of Indian Muslims, was considered hateful saffron propaganda. The home ministry recently had to do an incredible statistical makeover in Census 2001 to neutralise on paper a menace which is compounding on the ground. The UPA government, which reinforced the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, last year in Assam, will vainly try to sweep the infiltratorsí issue below the carpet. But alas, if only ignorance were bliss.

The chief ministers also expressed concern over the Pakistani ISIís links with the infiltrators. This accompanying conspiratorial agenda can hardly be overlooked. Pakistani ISI, encouraged by the findings of Census 2001, has launched Operation "PIN Code," to bring the Northeast under Islamic umbrella through demographic invasion. Our neighbour Bangladesh, a country solidly under the thumb of the ISI, is heading towards Talibanisation. With a population bursting at the seams, it is the official policy of Bangladesh to offload it in parts on Indian soil. History is on their side.

From 1900 onwards, a wave of immigration began from the densely populated East Bengal (now Bangladesh), especially Mymensingh district (the most populous district of undivided India), into the Brahmaputra valley of Assam. The Muslim population of Assam province had increased by 109% between 1881 and 1931. As a result of such migrations, Sylhet, the second largest district of the province, both in area and population, became predominantly Muslim and was awarded to East Pakistan when the country was partitioned on communal lines. The Muslim League had claimed the whole of Assam for Pakistan. And Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, who later became the President of India, had the plan for "Bang-e-Islam" i.e. the incorporation of Assam and West Bengal into East Pakistan through Muslim immigration. The "credit" for turning Barpeta district of Assam to a Muslim majority district through infiltration goes to him.

While they (read Islamic fundamentalists) have forgotten nothing, we have learnt nothing. That is why the Assamese establishment (Congress government) invited migrants from East Pakistan as rice cultivators. The faster natural growth of migrants put five districts of Assam in a state of jeopardy. The Assam agitation which emerged after the second reorganisation of Assam (1972), when it realised the full magnitude of the danger it was quite late in the day and it lost its direction. The IMDT was slapped in 1983 by an iniquitous Indira Gandhi government after the Congress swept the unpopular elections in Assam. The IMDT Act practically sealed Assamís fate.

In 1999, the then Assam governor, Lt. Gen. (Retd) S.K. Sinha, now governor of J&K, had submitted a 42-page report on Assamís demographic situation to President K.R. Narayanan. Lt. Gen. Sinha feared that the demographic aggression in Assamís lower districts like Dhubri and Goalpara can prompt their merger with Bangladesh. In fact, in lower Assam, one could walk miles thinking it is Bangladesh, without meeting a single Indian. But Tarun Gogoi, the then Assam Congress chief demanded his recall because he had cast an "aspersion" on the loyalty and the commitment of the Muslims to the country.

But the same Tarun Gogoi, now chief minister of Assam, cowered like an invertebrate when Jamiat Maulana Asad Madani, the national president of Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, threatened him point blank to "overthrow" his government unless JUHís demands like job reservation for Muslims and seats in the Lok Sabha and the Assembly were not met within six months.

According to a report in the Telegraph, Kolkata (April 4, 2005), "The Jamiatís 18-point charter of demands includes reservation of jobs and seats for the minorities, based on the population pattern, in government departments and educational institutionsÖ On illegal migration from Bangladesh to Assam, the organisation admitted it was a serious problem and suggested that a register of citizens be prepared with March 25, 1971, as the base year. It contended that there was nothing wrong with the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act and it ought to be extended to other parts of the country." The design of the JUH is evidently not only on Assam but on the whole of India. JUH has also filed a petition in the Supreme Court for the retention and extension of IMDT.

But while Madani had at least paid some lip service against infiltration, Tarun Gogoi was so scared that he was not one of those seven chief ministers who raised the issue at the conference though his state suffers the most from it. But home truths are quite different and jazzy. The very same day the governorís report got leaked to the media (albeit at a very few places) Tarun Gogoiís own government made a startling submission.

The Telegraph (April 14, 2005) reports: "The Assam government today said in an affidavit to the Supreme Court that the ISI was active in the state and illegal Bangladeshi migrants were pouring in through West Bengal and Tripura. Gogoi and his Cabinet colleagues have assured the Assembly on several occasions that the ISI has no presence in the state. The affidavit, however, states just the opposite. ĎTaking advantage of the porous nature of the border between India and Bangladesh, there has been large-scale illegal migration from Bangladesh, and taking advantage of this situation, there has been an increase in the activities of various anti-national groups, including ISI, in Assam. The state government is keeping a close watch on the situation and taking appropriate action to ensure the safety, security and integrity of the nationí."

The affidavit was in response to a petition challenging the validity of the IMDT, which is now before a three-judge bench of Justice R.C. Lahoti, Justice G.P. Mathur and Justice P.K. Balasubramanyam.

The CPI(M) seems more concerned about West Bank in Palestine than West Bengal here. It has demanded the breaking off of military ties with Israel for its policy on occupied territories. Infiltration severely affects the two states ruled by the Marxists, West Bengal and Tripura. But no resolution was passed at its 18th Party Congress in Chandigarh on this issue unlike the one condemning Israel over its Palestine policy. But it has also not gone the whole hog against Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee unlike in 2002 (when he expressed concern over the proliferation of madrasas). So do they realise the magnitude of the problem? Even if the answer is in the affirmative, the situation has now gone beyond their control. But equally important is the voice of concern from Maharashtra. It proves that the problem of infiltration is not just Assam, West Bengal or Northeastís problem but entire Indiaís. It hurts Delhi badly. But, sadly, we missed any reaction from the Delhi chief minister, who is now unfortunately caught up in a political eddy inside the Congress.