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February 13, 1999


Assam governor asks Centre to seal Bangladesh border

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Arup Chanda in New Delhi

The Union home ministry has been warned of a grave and imminent danger to the country's security unless the border with Bangladesh is sealed on a war footing to curb the influx of illegal migrants. Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence is taking advantage of the infiltration and causing problems in the North-East.

In a 42-page report to President K R Narayanan, Assam Governor S K Sinha has observed: "The long-cherished design of Greater Bangladesh, making inroads into the strategic land link of Assam with the rest of [India], can lead to severing the entire land mass of the North-East, with all its rich resources, from the rest of the country. This will have disastrous strategic and economic consequences."

Sinha, a retired lieutenant general who served in the area as an army officer for many years, is well aware of the problems caused in the region by infiltration. He has written, "There is a tendency to view illegal migration into Assam as a regional matter, affecting only the people of Assam. Its more dangerous dimension of greatly undermining our national security is ignored."

Sinha was appointed governor of Assam at the end of 1996. Before preparing the report titled 'Illegal immigration into Assam', he held prolonged discussions on the subject with several people from varied backgrounds and different shades of opinion. He also extensively toured the areas of Assam bordering Bangladesh.

He has pointed out that when India was partitioned in 1947, Assam would have been part of East Pakistan if it hadn't been for the vehement opposition of the late 'Lokapriya' [People's Beloved] Gopinath Bordoloi, who was awarded the Bharat Ratna posthumously last month.

Failure to get Assam included in East Pakistan remained a source of abiding resentment in Pakistan. Sinha has quoted Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who once wrote, "One at least is nearly as important as the Kashmir dispute, that of Assam and some districts of India adjacent to East Pakistan. To these Pakistan has very good claims."

Sinha has drawn attention to the fact that even a pro-India politician like Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Father of Bangladesh, had observed, "Because Eastern Pakistan must have sufficient land for its expansion and because Assam has abundant forests and mineral resources, Eastern Pakistan must include Assam to be financially and economically strong."

Pointing out that leading intellectuals in Bangladesh have been making out a case for 'lebensraum' for their country, Sinha has warned, "No matter how friendly our relations with Bangladesh, we can ill afford to ignore the dangers inherent in a demographic invasion from that country."

"We must not allow any misconceived notions of secularism to blind us to these realities," he has said. "Concrete steps must be taken on a war footing to ensure that the borders are as nearly sealed as possible and the unabated flood of infiltration is reduced to a trickle."

He has stressed that fencing of the 262km border of Assam with Bangladesh must be done on the same scale as in Punjab, complete with observation towers and lighting.

Admitting that there is no evidence of the Bangladeshi government organising this movement of population, Sinha has, however, pointed out that they have made no attempt to prevent it and, indeed, may be welcoming it as a solution to their country's overpopulation.

Sinha has given a breakdown of suspected illegal immigrants in India by state: West Bengal has 5.4 million, Assam 4 million, Tripura 0.8 million, Bihar 0.5 million, Maharashtra 0.5 million, Rajasthan 0.5 million and Delhi 0.3 million.

"Although Bangladeshi illegal migrants have come into several states in India and they are more numerous in West Bengal than in Assam, they pose a much greater threat in Assam that in any other state," Sinha has said.

He has cited statistics that reveal that the Muslim population of Assam rose 77.42 per cent in the period 1971-91. In the same period, the Hindu population rose 41.89 per cent.

Highlighting the consequences of this trend, Sinha has pointed out, "Pakistan's ISI has been active in Bangladesh, supporting militant movements in Assam. Muslim militant organisations have mushroomed in Assam and 50 Assamese Muslim youth have gone for training to Afghanistan and Kashmir."

"This silent and invidious demographic invasion of Assam may result in the loss of the geo-strategically vital districts of lower Assam. The influx of these illegal migrants is turning these districts into a Muslim majority region. It will then only be a matter of time when a demand for their merger with Bangladesh is made.

"The rapid growth of international Islamic fundamentalism may provide the driving force for this demand. The loss of lower Assam will severe the entire North-East from the rest of India and the rich natural resources of that region will be lost to the nation."

On preventing infiltration, Sinha has suggested that India, as far as possible, assist in the socio-economic development of Bangladesh, which will lead to removal of the motivation for trans-border migration.

He has also suggested the repeal of the "highly discriminatory" Illegal Migrants Determination Act, 1985, which was part of the Assam Accord, but has proved to be an exercise in futility.

While this top-secret report is being discussed threadbare in the Union home ministry and among senior intelligence officials, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government is unlikely to accept one of Sinha's recommendations. And that is that Bangladeshi Hindus who entered India after March 24, 1971, should also be treated as illegal migrants.

The BJP's stand is that any Hindu migrating from Bangladesh is a refugee. Its leaders argue that Hindus, a minority in that country, migrate because of Muslim attacks and should be provided shelter in India.

Foreigners are Assam's perennial problem
BJP urges repeal of Illegal Migrants Determination Act
Bangladeshis' deportation rocks Maharashtra assembly

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