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Why we need to know the history behind NRC

August 16, 2018 09:28 IST

Let us see the problem for what it actually is: Illegal Immigration plain and simple, confined to the north east with a definite communal slant that poses a national security risk and one that needs to be dealt with firmly and promptly by stringent identification (and deportation), says Vivek Gumaste.

IMAGE: Communist Party of India-Marxist activists protest against Assam's National Register of Citizen draft in Kolkata. Photograph: Ashok Bhaumik/PTI Photo

The current high decibel brouhaha over the release of the final draft of the Assam National Register of Citizens being orchestrated by certain political leaders is an unscrupulous political shenanigan designed to garner transitory electoral advantage at the cost of long term national interest.

This malicious campaign, though couched in moral overtones, is basically a deceptive camouflage that attempts to debunk the realities of history, casts logic to the winds and puts the sovereignty of the nation in jeopardy.

To comprehend the importance of the NRC we need to go back in time -- to that tumultuous period prior to Partition wherein interests inimical to India jostled with one another to manipulate the demography of Assam by exploiting the widespread penury of the region so that it could be included in Pakistan.

In that story lies the genesis and rationale of the NRC.


The tragedy of the indigenous people of Assam (or for that matter the people of the north east) is a story of systematic marginalisation that has all the elements of a Shakespearean opus: A tale that has its origin in the economic penury of Bengal of the late 19th century, that metamorphoses into a conspiracy with communal overtones around the time of Partition and then, surprisingly and shockingly, is allowed to go unchecked in Independent India as a result of political expediency and now persists in its distorted form: Being projected post the NRC release as a humanitarian issue that is being unnecessarily communalised by the BJP.

In the 1800s, the British administration began transporting indigent Bengali Muslim peasants from the overpopulated regions of Bengal to Assam for labour.

The negative impact of this migration was soon realised by the British, prompting the then census superintendent C S Mullen to remark: '... the most important event in the province during the last 25 years which seems likely to alter permanently the whole feature of Assam and to destroy the whole structure of Assamese culture and civilisation has been the invasion of a vast horde of land-hungry immigrants mostly Muslims, from the districts of East Bengal.' (Sanjoy Hazarika, Rites of Passage, Penguin Books, 2000. page 72).

The colonial administration did, however, take measures to curb this problem by introducing the 'Line System' that demarcated specific areas for migrant settlers.

Muslim leaders of pre-Partition India viewed this uncontrollable deluge with a different perspective. They saw in this a golden opportunity that could be exploited to gain control of Assam with the ultimate aim of its amalgamation into Pakistan.

Not only did they encourage migration but consistently opposed moves to evict the illegal settlers in order to keep their plan on track.

Prominent among these politicians was Sir Syed Mohammad Saadullah, who was the first premier of Assam in 1935, and Maulana Bhasani, president of the Assam Provincial Muslim League during that period.

Find below some excerpts from the book, Assam Muslims: Politics & Cohesion by Bimal J Dev, Dilip Kumar Lahiri (Mittal Publications, 1985) which attest to this scheme:

'Saadulla ministry also found in the 'Grow More Food' campaign a convenient mechanism of striking at the root of the Line System and facilitating the ultimate inclusion of Assam in Eastern Pakistan Zone. In the name of 'Grow More Food' campaign the Muslim League dominated Ministry settled 160,000 bighas of land with immigrants and even the Viceroy of India felt tempted to characterise the ministry's programme as 'Grow More Muslims' programme...'

'In the middle of May 1946, Bhasani resorted to fast unto death 'unless the government of Assam stopped the eviction of immigrants' (page 49).

'Bhasani was elected president of the Assam Provincial Muslim League which marked the beginning of a new era in Assam politics... the Muslim League became increasingly militant for achieving the twin objective of Pakistan and abolition of the Line System' (page 42).

Over the years, the orchestrators of this devious game plan have changed labels, but the goal of displacing the natives of Assam by a demographic invasion has remained.

With the advent of an apparently friendly Bangladesh, this conspiracy did not fade away. Bangladesh continues to view India's north east, especially Assam, as its lebensraum.

Below are excerpts from an article written by prominent columnist Sadeek Khan in the Bangladeshi newspaper Holiday (October 18, 1991) and referred to by Governor S K Sinha in his report (Illegal Migration into Assam. Lt Gen S K Sinha, Nov 8, 1998. Report submitted to President of India) on illegal immigration into Assam:

'The question of lebensraum or living space for the people of Bangladesh has not yet been raised as a moot issue. All projections, however, clearly indicate that by the next decade, that is to say by the first decade of the 21st century, Bangladesh will face a serious crisis of lebensraum. No possible performance of population planning, actual or hypothetical significantly alters that prediction...'

'There is no reason why Bangladesh should not insist on a globalised manpower market. There is no reason why regional and international cooperation could not be worked out to plan and execute population movements and settlements to avoid critical demographic pressures in pockets of high concentration. There is no reason why under-populated regions in the developed world cannot make room for planned colonies to relieve build-up of demographic disasters in countries like Bangladesh.'

'We shall hope for the best in international cooperation. We shall hope for the best in accommodation from the developed world… The natural trend of population overflow from Bangladesh is towards the sparsely populated lands of the South East in the Arakan side and of the North East in the Seven Sisters side of the Indian subcontinent.'

So, what we see here is an ostensibly rational plea to accommodate the increasing Bangladeshi population, but also a fait accompli that Bangladesh will not attempt to prevent; in other words, India's north east is fair game for the land-strapped Bangladeshis.

On the diplomatic front, Bangladesh must be made to officially acknowledge this problem.

Pussyfooting to maintain a deceptive harmony with our neighbour may prove costly in the long run.

India may not want to appear as the neighbourhood bully, but neither can it allow itself to be taken for a ride by its weaker neighbours.

It is imperative that we take adequate measures to ensure the integrity of our borders and secure internal harmony.

There are enough illegal immigrants (nearly 40 lakhs not accounted by the NRC) already entrenched in Assam with enough clout to displace locals and transform the area into a fundamentalist terrain; another Kashmir in the making.

The writing is on the wall. We need to act now before it is too late.

The current political fracas is a calculated exercise in obfuscation; a deliberate attempt to create confusion, perpetuate indecision and maintain the status quo so that the politics of vote bank can continue unhindered.

Mamta Banerjee's shameless volte face is a classic example of this dirty vote bank politics.

In 2005, when the CPM was in power in Bengal, Banerjee, then an Opposition MP, wrote to the Lok Sabha Speaker stating: 'The infiltration in Bengal has become a disaster now... I have both the Bangladeshi and the Indian voters list. This is a very serious matter. I would like to know when would it be discussed in the House.'

Today when she speaks of a 'civil war' and 'bloodbath', it must be taken not with a pinch of salt but a tonne of the same.

National interest cannot be dictated by fickle politicians driven by parochial interests.

While not denying that there is a humanitarian element in the current crisis, it must be balanced against the norms of a nation-State; humanitarian concerns cannot be allowed to overwhelm the requirements of sovereignty to the extent that the fundamental framework of a nation is eroded.

The demographic alteration in the north east is a ticking time bomb which when it explodes will blow away the boundaries of a secular democratic nation.

The attempt to introduce a Hindu-Muslim element into the problem is repugnant.

Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh are not illegal immigrants; by international definition, they are refugees fleeing religious persecution.

The same cannot be said of Muslims from Bangladesh who are voluntarily seeking greener pastures across the border.

Need I remind the worthies raising the issue of Bangladeshi Hindus that the Hindus of Bangladesh bore the brunt of the Bangladesh genocide of 1971, when close to 3 million people were massacred. Therefore, to tag the Hindus as illegal immigrants is not only immoral, but also barbaric, cruel and callous.

We therefore need to crystallise our thoughts and delete those variables that have been deliberately interjected into the equation to skew the perception.

We need to see the problem in its pristine form.

Let us not give credence to the attempt to make it a wider, pan Hindu-Muslim conflict.

Let us see it for what it actually is: Illegal Immigration plain and simple, confined to the north east with a definite communal slant that poses a national security risk and one that needs to be dealt with firmly and promptly by stringent identification (and deportation).

Even if deportation is not practical, it will serve as a warning for future illegal migrants.

Vivek Gumaste is a US-based academic, political commentator and the author of My India: Musings of a Patriot.

Vivek Gumaste