31 July, 2008, Hhowrah.org
If former Assam Governor Lt Gen (Retd) Ajay Singh’s assertion of around 6000 illegal Bangladeshis entering Assam daily is even partially correct, the fate of India’s North East is at stake. The horrific demographic imbalance will see Bangla migrants outnumber the entire population of the region in the next two decades.
Despite Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi shrugging off the Governor’s seemingly inflated claim, the fact is that infiltration into the State remains unabated over the years. Social tension is strengthening, which is evident in the text-message campaigns in Upper Assam advocating a social and economic boycott of Bangladeshi migrants.
The moot question: is it a threat to survival or survival of the threat?
Decades back, the powerful All Assam Students Union (ASSU) had launched a bloody campaign to push Bangladeshis back to their land. Indigenous people who feared a minority status in their own land massacred thousands of Bangladeshis, including women and children, across the State. New Delhi signed an accord in 1985, but clauses on the deportation of foreigners have still not been implemented. Though there are genuine Assamese Muslims and mainland Muslims, the present influx of illegal Bangladeshis in the State threatens the country’s internal security.
Today, 23 years after the agreement was signed, illegal migrants from Bangladesh remain entrenched in the state; their identification and deportation have become increasingly remote. The political parties have played a major role here by maneuvering to consolidate their electoral vote-banks.
The Assam agitation peaked in the early 1980s, but has completely dissipated due to the compromises made by the political forces that are driven by narrow interests. There is a conspiracy of silence in their political posturing that has uprooted socio- cultural-political mores. The long stretch of Assam forest bordering Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh has over the years disappeared and been systematically occupied by the illegal immigrants. The trouble is most of these illegal settlers are well equipped with valid land holding documents issued by the Assam administration.
The Nagaland Government often alleges that these illegal immigrants have even occupied the Disputed Area Belt (DAB) that leads to frequent border skirmishes.
Tripura is a case in extremes and Nagaland is the next target because of late Bangla migrants have been swarming the State. In the last few years, there has been a dramatic change in the socio-economic ethos of the State. Lack of work culture, easy money and a laid back opulent life style are the main reasons why these Muslims mostly coming from Bangladesh into Assam first are then entering Nagaland. All the menial jobs, construction of houses, taxi driving, rickshaw pulling and cultivation are mostly done by these Muslims today. They also run almost half of the shops in Dimapur, the biggest commercial hub of the State and the capital, Kohima. Though historically the Nagas had no links with either the Bangla or Assamese Muslims.
However, Muslims had come to Manipur from Sylhet in the 17th century during the reign of King Khagemba (1597-1652) at the invitation of Prince Sadongba. Reportedly Prince Sadongba had planned to dethrone his brother King Khagenmba with the help of these Muslims. In many battles, Manipur Kings used the services of these Muslim soldiers who were considered skilled fighters. Many Muslim soldiers also lost their lives when Manipur suffered in the 1758 Burmese-Manipur war. Even when the British defeated Manipur in 1891, many Muslim soldiers were also killed and some were deported to Andaman and Nicobar Islands. How can Assam have such a huge Muslim population spilling over into other parts of the region unless coming from across the international border?
Cases over IMDT
There has been a slew of court cases fought over the efficacy of the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act (IMDT) to identify and deport the illegal Bangladeshi migrants, which has led to the Supreme Court of India striking down the IMDT Act in favour of the Foreigner’s Act. Yet there have been attempts to bypass this order by amending the Foreigner’s Act and providing special provisions for the state of Assam. There are some Assamese Muslim organizations that have come up in Upper Assam to tackle the identity crisis they are facing. Successive Congress governments in the state have sought to consolidate the Bangladeshi vote-bank, which has paid huge dividends. It was only during the last assembly elections in Assam that the IMDT Act was struck down by the Supreme Court and the Congress faced reverses in getting Muslim votes.
According to the 2001 Census, the Muslim population in the North-East was recorded at 8,858,543 as against 6,805,647 in 1991. Out of this, Assam’s share was recorded at 8,240,611, followed by Tripura at 254,442 and Manipur at 190,939. Five other states have Muslim populations of less than one Lakh: 99,169 in Meghalaya, 10,099 in Mizoram, 35,005 in Nagaland, 7,693 in Sikkim, and 20,675 in Arunachal Pradesh. As the 2001 Census data indicates, in Assam, the overall Hindu population was 64.9 per cent as against 67.1 per cent in 1991, while the Muslim population for the corresponding years stood at 30.9 per cent and 28.4 per cent respectively. Though several factors might have contributed to this demographic change, several analysts believe that the unabated influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh could be a major factor in this increase.
Against the backdrop of these developments, the abnormal increase in the number of madrasas in Assam numbering about 1466, of which 810 are registered, is a matter of concern. Intelligence agencies have been warning for years that many of these madrasas could be safe havens for radical elements. Surprisingly, Islamic groups have been silent on the tumultuous issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh to Assam. Intelligence inputs have expressed trepidation about these groups being instigated to violence by external Islamic groups on the pretext of safeguarding interests of minorities facing harassment at the hands of outfits spearheading the oust-Bangladeshi campaign in the region. Strategists in the Home Ministry fear that the tug-of-war over migrants of suspected Bangla origin could become the trigger for groups such as Harkat-Ul-Jehadi-Islami(HUJI) to fish in the troubled waters of the North-East.
The surfacing of these groups and their ability to strike deals with prominent outfits like the ULFA and extraneous Islamic groups has added a new twist to the multifarious security environment that besets the North East. The best antidote to counter this emerging threat is to break their nexus with groups like the ULFA and their external allies. Sitting like a lame duck on this unholy alliance will prove to be too costly for India’s geopolitical security in the years ahead.