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March 24, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/ Lt Gen (retd) S K Sinha

'There's nothing communal in my report'

The controversy lingers. Opposition leaders say Assam Governor Lieutenant General (retd) S K Sinha's report to the Union home ministry on the infiltration of minorities has communal overtones. The governor refutes the charge, underscoring the nature and extent of the infiltration in the hill state, which, he says, has long-term repercussions. He spoke to Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi after meeting Union Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani, to apprise him of the situation:

Your report has generated a lot of controversy...

Yes, it has spurred comments that I am communal. Some have said that I am a Bharatiya Janata Party man. But I have been the governor of the state before the BJP assumed power at the Centre. I have never been a member of the BJP. I have no political ambition. The United Front government appointed me the governor of Assam. I have met a cross-section of people in this state and had discussions with them. They all told me how Bangladeshis were crossing over.

I remember that as prime minister, H D Deve Gowda visited Assam and declared that he would repeal the Illegal Migrants Detection Act. But when he came back to Delhi, he was under pressure from the supporting parties of the UF coalition to reverse his utterances. Today, the CPI-M government in West Bengal has understood the magnitude of the problem and raised its voice against illegal migration into Assam. The chief minister of Nagaland and others of his kind in the north-eastern region have expressed their concern about it.

What is your reading of the problem?

The first thing is to identify the problem. In Assam there has been a concentration of population of one community than there is in other parts of the country. This community's population has increased by over 70 per cent. In Bangladesh, there were 700,000 registered Bihari Muslims. Today, there are just 100,000 of them in Dhaka and elsewhere in that country. Where did the 600,000 Bihari Muslims go? These are hard facts, which just cannot be ignored. And there is nothing communal in it.

There are a few other things. (Mohammed Ali) Jinnah went about saying that Assam will be in Pakistan's pocket. He wanted to incorporate Assam into Pakistan. But Nehru and Patel put paid to his hopes. It was (Gopinath) Bordoloi (the first chief minister of Assam) who insisted that Assam should be in India. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto also made noises about Assam's incorporation into Pakistan. Bangladesh leaders have frequently spoken about their need for more living space, and their apparent thrust has been towards Assam. Even Sheikh Mujibur Rahman spoke about the inevitability of Assam coming into Bangladesh's fold.

Do you feel votebank politics in India is responsible for the current situation in Assam?

Well, if migration is taking place into Assam from across the border and if this is sought to be protected, then there is something obviously wrong. But as governor, I have my job cut out and I am not unduly worried about noises against me. I am a constitutional functionary and I am here to protect the interests of the people as well as that of the country.

What is the state of militancy in Assam?

It is a problem. Under the given circumstances, all measures are being taken to fight militancy. Steps have been initiated asking militants to surrender. The government is trying to rehabilitate surrendered militants by bringing them into the national mainstream. Nobody can take on the might of the state. We are determined to root out militancy in Assam.

Have you found any evidence of Inter-Services Intelligence activity in Assam?

There have been frequent newspaper reports about the ISI infiltrating not only into Assam but the entire north-eastern region. That is why continuing illegal migration has serious implications for the country's security. But you can rest assured, we are fully prepared to meet any situation.

You have also been India's ambassador to Nepal during the V P Singh government. Later, it became well known that the ISI began operating from the Nepalese soil against India. Did you have any inkling about that when you were posted in Kathmandu?

There had been some talk. The Indian government has always taken up such issues with Nepal. I don't think it will be much of a problem to settle the issue to the mutual benefit of India and Nepal.

You belong to Bihar. During your ambassadorial stint in Kathmandu, did you find criminals from there sneaking into Nepal? Bihar, after all, borders the Himalayan kingdom.

Such occurrences are frequent and both countries know it. It is also a fact that the underworld in both the countries are well organised and extend full co-operation to each other.

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