India is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious nation. If the state itself takes a side with the Hindu nationalists, the other people will be feeling threatened, vulnerable, and insecure. A nation can't succeed and lead the world leaving its people fighting one another.
A sizable number of Bengali Hindus and Muslims have been living in the Barak Valley of Assam for generations. Bengali-speaking Hindus, and Bengali and Urdu- speaking Muslims are not a new phenomenon in the state of Assam.
Of course, Bengali speaking Hindus and Muslims are not Bangladeshi because Karimganj, Hailakandi, and Cachar districts were part of Sylhet region until the partition of India and Dhubri, Goalpara, Kokrajhar, and Bongaigaon were part of Rangpur region until 1825. So, the Bengalis irrespective of their faith have been living in the above districts of Assam for generations.
So, there was a huge Bengali speaking population in Assam even before partition. But according to BJP leaders, only the Hindus should remain here, and the Muslims will have to move to Bangladesh because they adversely affect the demography of the state.
Terming them Bangladeshis and any attempt to push them into Bangladesh is inhumane and unacceptable; though in the past, India assured Bangladesh it is an internal matter of India. India, the world's largest democracy, is behaving with its best friend Bangladesh like a frenemy, with its divisive policies. The Indian government has not discussed the "illegal migrants" issue at any high government level with its Bangladeshi counterpart.
The BJP leaders say that Bengali Hindus can stay in India and will be given citizenship, but Muslims must be deported to Bangladesh. It's a discriminatory policy by the state and central government that Hindus can stay in the state and Muslims have to leave. Dividing India along with the religious lines is divisive and goes against the country's secular character.
During his election campaign, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, speaking in Assam, said that the people of India should make a note that Bangladeshis will have to pack their bags and prepare to leave after May 16, 2014. According to some BJP leaders, Hindus have been persecuted in Bangladesh for decades. So they conclude that it is right that Hindus should be given citizenship and other rights, and Muslims deported. They portray the majority of Muslims living in Assam as illegal migrants who must be deported to Bangladesh.
The "illegal migrants" issue has been a political hotcake for a long time in Assam. Analysts say that under BJP rule, Muslims are being harassed and humiliated for their belief most of the time. It seems that the BJP is playing politics with this issue of the ouster of "illegal migrants". BJP's partisan and divisive policies are bringing it tremendous success in the state. So it is likely to continue with its divisive policies.
More than 1.7 million Bengali speaking Assamese were left out of the National Register of Citizens. Despite BJP leaders' assurance of giving citizenship to Bengali Hindus, 1.1 million Bengali Hindus are left out of the NRC final list and also six hundred thousand are Bengali Muslims and the rest are Urdu-speaking Bihari Muslims, Nepalese, and others are not included in the final list. It seems the target was not Muslims but Bengalis.
There have been lapses and clerical mistakes. Officials and BJP leaders say that the mistakes will be corrected, and the people who were left out of the NRC will be able to appeal to have their names included. It's hard to believe that 1.7 million Bengali-speaking Assamese were excluded from the NRC final list simply as a result of clerical mistakes. "Illegal migrants" were defined as those who entered Assam after midnight of March 24, 1971.
Some families are now divided. Some members of the same family are now legal citizens of the country and others are illegal. Some Bengali-speaking Assamese who have served in the law enforcement agencies and army were not included in the NRC final list. Overnight, 1.7 million Bengali-speaking Assamese have become stateless within the country. The officials say that the people who were excluded from the list will have the chance to get their names included after they provide certain legal documents.
It is highly unlikely that the Border Security Force will be trying to deport the newly-declared "illegal migrants" to Bangladesh. In 2003, Lal Krishna Advani, the then 7th Deputy Prime Minister, ordered the deportation of 265 Bengali-speaking Muslims. They were collected and taken to the Bangladesh border.
The BSF tried to push them into Bangladesh, but the then Bangladesh Rifles resisted that effort, saying they were not the citizens of Bangladesh. It will be very hard for the ruling BJP to prove in the superior court that the 1.9 million Assamese are illegal migrants from Bangladesh who must be deported back.
There is no way that Bangladesh will be welcoming these Muslims when they are pushed into Bangladesh. It is a political game. There is fear, insecurity, and panic in Assam among Bengalis.
Citizenship Amendment Bill which is aimed to give the citizenship to the Bengali Hindus who came to India after being oppressed in Bangladesh and Pakistan. The bill has been passed in Lok Sabha but not brought to the Rajya Sabha because the bill is not acceptable to the Assamese.
BJP promised in 2016 just before the Vidhan Sabha or Assembly election that it would deport the Bengali speaking Muslims. So, all the Hindus irrespective of their ethnicity voted for BJP.
But now, In short, the Bengali speaking Assamese are having a bit of an existential crisis, and no one, not even Bengali Hindus, has been exempt. The irony is that after failing to see their names in the NRC final list, more than 50 people committed suicide and the majority of them were Bengali Hindus who supported BJP.
If an Assamese who doesn't have their name in the NRC final list, then their properties will be confiscated and be put in the detention centre.
The BJP leaders openly say that most of the 1.7 million people whose names are not in the NRC final list are from Bangladesh and they will be deported to Bangladesh. But when BJP leaders visit Bangladesh they say that it's an internal matter of India. Ostensibly, BJP leaders have been doing politics with the issue.
In my view, the Indian government won't try to deport any number of Bengali speaking Muslims to Bangladesh. In the past, the BDR thwarted such attempts and we need to bear in mind that India is not Myanmar. What Myanmar did with the Rohingyas India can't do it with Bengali Speaking Assamese.
Amit Shah says after Assam, NRC will also be taking place in other states, which means more uncertainty and chaos will be reigning supreme in India.
The writer, a Bangladeshi freethinker, is based in Toronto, Canada
Leave Your Comments