The deleterious potential of what is happening in Assam

Muhammad Zamir | Published: August 12, 2018 22:02:41 | Updated: August 12, 2018 22:17:26

Activists of All Bengal Minority Youth Federation shouting slogans as they protest against the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the north-eastern state of Assam, in Kolkata, India, July 31, 2018. Photo: AP

No country should undertake any action that might result in a negative osmotic effect the ripples of which can cross traditional politics. Such a scenario then results in instability, abuse of human rights and transgression of international law.

We, in Bangladesh, are already facing the dire effects of ethnic cleansing and genocide in Myanmar. The inhuman conditions there have resulted in more than one million Rohingya Muslims crossing the international border between Bangladesh and the Rakhine State of Myanmar and seeking sanctuary in our country. These affected people were residents of that part of Myanmar for at least four to five generations. This affected population has suffered because they were Muslims and not Buddhists. That was also the primary cause for their citizenship being denied, in some cases revoked - and them being defined as Bangalees and illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

The world in general and Bangladesh in particular is now watching with deep concern the evolving situation in the contiguous Indian State of Assam and the measures being taken by that State's local government regarding the latest draft of the Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC) . It may be noted that the first NRC was prepared in 1951 and included all those who were mentioned in the 1951 census of India.

Analysts have drawn attention in the media to some provocative and irresponsible comments made by political leadership of different parties in India and mentioned that the denotation and connotation of such action can only create instability and inter-communal strife.

They have specially mentioned the most unfortunate comment made by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP0 Telangana legislator Raja Singh from Goshamahal on July 31 after the latest nnouncement of details of the NRC at the end of July, 2018. He said that Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims are "a danger to India" and to keep India safe they should be shot down if they do not leave the country voluntarily. According to NDTVs hate speech tracker, this was Raja Singh's 12th incidence of hate speech. He also told the news agency ANI: "How is it right to keep foreigners in our country? There is no need to keep these pests in our country." He posted a video message on a similar vein on his social media account. He apparently believes in the wrong assumption that millions of people of Bangladesh who had sought sanctuary in Assam during the 1971 War of Liberation have continued to stay on in Assam.

This observation from this lawmaker, came on a day when BJP chief Amit Shah accused the Indian Congress  party and the Trinamool Congress party of West Bengal of being unnecessarily critical of the Centre for pushing the NRC. The implication of his comment, according to some observers, was that these parties wanted to save illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. 

In a similar vein, on  July 19, 2018, Pravin Togadia, President of the Antarashtriyo Hindu Parishad, made the controversial remark that the BJP leadership during the 2014 election had promised to deport illegal migrants from Assam and the rest of the country but had failed to live up to expectations. In this regard he pointed out that the Indian army should now occupy a portion of land in Bangladesh and settle all Bangladeshi illegal immigrants in India in that territory if the Bangladesh government refused to take them back.

In the recent past some extreme right-wing political leaders in India have remarked that fanatic Muslims in Bangladesh have been instrumental in creating situations that have resulted in many from the Bangladeshi Hindu community migrating illegally to India.

Such comments are not only provocative but also unnecessary, especially in a situation where the bilateral relationship between India and Bangladesh has been, during the last few years, constructive, based on discussion between senior political leaders of both countries, including their Heads of Governments. These exchange of views have enabled both countries to work together to curb terrorism, reduce killing at the border of the two countries, create greater socio-economic connectivity and facilitate joint approaches with regard to solution of problems that affect both countries - be it on land or in the sea. Exchange of views has also helped in the growth potential in many areas - education, health, energy, trade and investment. Easing of the Indian visa process will facilitate this paradigm.

Consequently, it has been heartening to note some important observations made by others in the Indian leadership. The Indian Express drewng attention to Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj's comment on  July 20 in the Indian Rajya Sabha. She informed all present that according to demographic data available with the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Hindus in Bangladesh comprised 8.4 per cent of the total population of the country in 2011 and the figure rose to 10.7 in 2017.

Mr. Harsh Vardhan Shringla, the Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, told journalists on August 01 that Bangladesh did not need to worry about the exclusion of 4.0 million people from NRC in Assam. He observed that the NRC process was not political in nature but was mandated by the Indian Supreme Court and that the Court is monitoring the procedure.  He pointed out that the NRC published on  July 30 was a draft and that every individual in Assam would be given adequate time and opportunity to prove his/her claim before the final NRC is agreed upon. He indicated that the NRC process was being carried out in an objective, transparent and meticulous manner to ensure safety and security. This, according to him, would enable a person left out of the NRC to appeal to the Foreigners' Tribunal. In the meantime, according to him, there is no question of anyone being put in a detention centre after the publication of the latest NRC list. It was also observed by him that "If anyone is found not to be the citizen of India, it does not mean he or she is a Bangladeshi (as is being unfortunately observed by many far-right Indian politicians) and will not be deported to Bangladesh." It explained that no deportation to any country, including Bangladesh, could take place without bilateral consultation. Analysts have pointed out that Nepal and Bhutan are also worried in this regard.

The Bangladesh High Commissioner in New Delhi and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka have in the meantime mentioned that the evolving situation in Assam and its implications are an internal matter that India will have to resolve by itself. However the political matrix being sensitive, Bangladesh quite correctly has started taking pre-emptive steps along its 165-mile border with Assam to prevent any intrusion into Bangladesh by people from Assam. On the other side, in Assam, Section 144 of the CRPC has been imposed on 7 Districts, ostensibly to prevent unnecessary communal tension and violence. These are laudable efforts.

However, the current situation has continued to exacerbate tension because of other revelations. Mamata Banerjee, the leader of the Trinamool Congress party and the Chief Minister of India's West Bengal State, adjoining Bangladesh, has expressed anxieties and concern. She has aggressively protested against the latest NRC list which has excluded 4.0 million people presently residing in Assam and observed that this is an attempt to divide and rule and target people who would not vote for BJP in the coming election. She has warned in New Delhi that the BJP should not think that only the BJP followers are Indians. She reminded the media that "The name of Indian politics is tolerance. The name of Indian politics is democracy".

Mamata and other Trinamool Congress lawmakers have strongly protested in the Indian Lok Sabha (Parliament) over the incident in which Trinamool Congress lawmakers had to undergo overnight detention at the Airport in Assam's Silchar where they had gone to address public meetings and take stock of the situation arising out of the publication of the NRC report. Leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha, Mallika Rajun Kharge supported the Trinamool saying it was important to note that MPs were detained when the Parliament session was on.

 'India Today' has incidentally remarked that Mamata's anguish about the NRC and the Assam situation might have been driven by her apprehension that the Bangla-speaking people left out of the draft list of citizens may end up heading towards her West Bengal State, the adjoining State of Assam.

In the meantime, certain revelations have cast a shadow over the latest NRC draft. Mamata Banerjee has pointed out that to her surprise she had found out that the names of India's former President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed's family members are not on the Assam NRC list. It has similarly been reported that some persons who had worked for decades in the Indian armed forces have been left out of the NRC list. Similarly, surprisingly, according to Indian columnist Subir Bhaumik, two-time MLA Maulana Mazarbhuiyan has been dropped from the NRC draft. In addition, two other lawmakers, Ramakanta Dewri, BJP MLA from Morigaon and Ananta Kumar Malo, AIUDF MLA, did not find their names in the NRC.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.

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