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'Infiltrators to kingmakers': Assam has a problem

'Infiltrators to kingmakers': Assam has a problem

Author: Samudra Gupta Kashyap
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: August 1, 2008
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/story/343052.html

Introduction: A recent judgment by Gauhati HC outlines the dangers posed by the increasing influx of Bangladeshi migrants in Assam

Around thirty years ago, when the All Assam Students' Union (AASU), led by its then president Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, launched an agitation demanding detection and deportation of Bangladeshi infiltrators, the then government as well as the people in the rest of the country thought it was a non-issue being raised by a students' body.

Three decades later, more and more facts have come to the fore proving that the influx of Bangladeshi infiltrators is worryingly high, and also that these people, who pose a threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the nation, are increasing their political clout in the country.

The latest such document at hand is a judgment passed by Justice B K Sharma of the Gauhati High Court last week, which said that Bangladeshi infiltrators have a "major role" in electing representatives both to the Legislative Assembly and Parliament and, consequently, in the decision-making process towards building the nation. "They have become the kingmakers," Justice Sharma had remarked. Reacting to the judgment, AASU said on Wednesday that a porous Indo-Bangla border had converted Assam into a corridor for Islamic terrorists to enter mainland India.

The flow of people from the erstwhile East Bengal (of the pre-Independence era) to Assam began in the early 20th century. However, it was the Bangladesh War for Liberation that sparked off a massive exodus of people from the then East Pakistan, with the Indian government failing to ensure that they returned to their newborn country.

It was during the revision of the electoral rolls in the Mangaldoi Lok Sabha constituency in 1979 (which was preparing for a by-election) that the authorities detected a large number of people of Bangladeshi /East Pakistani origin having enrolled themselves as voters there.

The AASU, which was already preparing for an agitation, took up the issue, resulting in a six-year-long popular movement that culminated in signing of the Assam Accord on August 14, 1985.

But even after the Accord, nothing significant happened as the Centre chose to retain the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act of 1983, which was always been seen as a piece of legislation which protected infiltrators instead of weeding them out.

The Congress, which has always been accused of protecting the migrants, has remained in denial mode as far as the influx is concerned. But there have been times when leaders of the same party did describe the flow of migrants as a big problem. Most significant was a statement made by former chief minister Hiteswar Saikia, who, in August 1994, told the Assembly that there were 30 lakh Bangladeshis in Assam. Saikia, however, retracted his statement within a couple of days after the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind threatened to pull down his government.

The most significant report in this regard was sent by former governor of Assam Lt Gen S K Sinha (Retd) to the President of India on November 8, 1998, giving a vivid account of the influx and also pointing out that Bangladeshi migrants were emerging as a majority in districts bordering Bangladesh and would sooner or later demand a merger of those districts with the neighbouring country.

Former home minister Indrajit Gupta in 1998 stated in Parliament that there were over 1.08 crore Bangladeshi infiltrators in the country, over 40 per cent of whom were living in Assam. Several Home Ministry reports have also hinted at direct and indirect links between Bangladeshi influx and jehadi activities in the country.

The most significant development, however, was a Supreme Court verdict on July 12, 2005, which struck down the IMDT Act, describing it as beyond the powers of the Constitution. The judgment came on a petition filed by AGP MP Sarbananda Sonowal. Such was the reaction of the pro-migrants lobby to the verdict that a new political party called Assam United Democratic Front came into existence soon after.

Meanwhile, the number of Bangladeshi infiltrators detected and deported from Assam has remained alarmingly low. Only two weeks ago, Minister for Assam Accord Implementation, Bhumidhar Barman, told the Assembly that though 8,431 Bangladeshis were detected since 2001 (when the present Government assumed power), only 94 had been deported so far.

People of Bangladeshi origin, who have managed to enroll themselves as voters in the state, on the other hand, have multiplied at such a rate that today they are the deciding factor in at least 45 Assembly constituencies and four Lok Sabha constituencies in Assam.

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