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'You can't take the BJP at face value'

By SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF
December 11, 2019 10:29 IST
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'The BJP will say in future if you don't allow Hindus to be in India, where will they go?'
'There are 17 million Hindus in Bangladesh and we, in the north east, see this Citizenship (Amendment) Bill as a route for them to enter India on the plea that they are facing persecution in Bangladesh.'

IMAGE: Demonstrators burn tyres during a strike called by the All Assam Students Union and the North East Students Organisation in protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Guwahati on December 10, 2019. Photograph: PTI Photo
 

At midnight on Monday, after seven hours of deliberations, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance was successful in passing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the Lok Sabha.

The controversial legislation, which seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, awaits the Rajya Sabha test next.

Amid this, the north east has erupted in protests with many stating that the legislation is an attempt to impose the burden of post-1971 Hindu Bangladeshis on the region.

"The north east is a region of small tribes and indigenous people and we don't want to see this region being run over by an alien population," Patricia Mukhim, editor, The Shillong Times, tells Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com.

What is the reaction in the north east to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019?

People are angry. People are afraid that the demographics in the area will change.

There are 17 million Hindus in Bangladesh and we, in the north east, see this Citizenship (Amendment) Bill as a route for them to enter India on the plea that they are facing persecution in Bangladesh.

The already existing (illegal) Bengali Hindus in the region will also be legalised.

The north east is a region of small tribes and indigenous people and we don't want to see this region being run over by an alien population.

They are alien in every way because they are from Bangladesh. I don't know why they want to settle in the north east and what vested interests they have.

How many illegal Bangladeshi Hindus are present in the seven north eastern states?

We don't have the numbers. How do you know the numbers? That is why the BJP wants to do a National Register of Citizens in all the states. Unless you do NRC, you will not know who is legal and who is illegal.

The BJP is very popular in the north east. So how is it that the people of the region are angry with the Citizenship Amendment Bill?

I don't know about the popularity as the BJP came (won) in Assam and other north east states when people were disillusioned with the Congress. People were tired of the Congress. There was corruption and misrule and dynasty politics; people were tired of it.

If you ask any common man today in India they will tell you they are tired of elitist kind of politicians. They want to see someone like Narendra Modi who is down to earth as he can connect with the poor and underprivileged. That is the reason the whole north east voted for Modi, as they wanted a change -- and see what kind of change we got!

Inner Line Permit areas in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram have been excluded from the revised legislation. So, why is it that the people of the north east are so angry?

We understand that and we know this is also an attempt to divide the region.

Now only Assam is left open (for migration). In other Sixth Schedule states like Meghalaya there is a huge area known as the Shillong municipality and the cantonment area which are beyond the purview of the Sixth Schedule.

Over there people can come and live. They can now do anything that they want to do in that area.

Is it true that in Tripura, Bengalis have migrated in large numbers and their population has outnumbered the locals?

Of course. In Tripura, the indigenous people are only 32% (of the population) and even Tripura's Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb's antecedents are questionable. They (Bangladeshi Hindus) have been just coming and coming because the borders are so porous. All the borders of the north east with Bangladesh are porous.

Meghalaya has a 400 km with Bangladesh. Assam has porous borders.

If you see the border fences they have fallen or collapsed because of heavy rains and floods. Nobody has bothered to repair them.

It is so porous that you can just move in and out of Bangladesh.

You said there are 17 million Bangladeshi Hindus living in Bangladesh. The CAB has set up a deadline for all Hindu refugees from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan as December 31, 2014. If you come after that date, you cannot enter India.

I don't think you can take the BJP at face value. The BJP is a machinery that wants to win elections. Right now they say 2014, then they will change the date next.

The BJP will say in future too if you don't allow Hindus to be in India, where will they go? That has been the BJP's contention. The BJP is trying to create Hindu India vis-a-vis Muslim Pakistan.

Is there a way or mechanism to prove these Hindu refugees have faced religious persecution elsewhere?

How do we know? Because, when you see Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina talking, she says these (NRC and CAB) are measures just to win elections. She has said this on record.

Army chief General Bipin Rawat has said there was a planned migration of Muslims to India from Bangladesh. Do you believe that?

It is not planned migration. People migrate wherever life is better and wherever there is land.

Land is at a premium in Bangladesh and they know that their country might submerge under water in 60 years or so.

The threat of climate change is severe there so it is better to migrate, and what better place than go to northeast India.

What will be the impact on Bangladeshi Hindus who are staying in Bangladesh right now? Will it impact their lives in any way?

I just visited Bangladesh and nobody is making a hue and cry over the Citizenship Amendment Bill.

In the past, during the 1971 War, many Hindus lost their land as it was taken away by Pakistani forces. They considered Hindus as enemies then.

One wonders what these illegal Bangladeshi Muslims have done to the local population of the north east that there is so much angst over them. Why does the BJP want these Muslims to become stateless?

It is just to counter the Congress party. The Congress has been pandering to the Muslim vote bank for a long time. The BJP has made Hindus feel cornered and persecuted at the cost of Muslims.

They don't even look at the Sachar committee report, which states that the Muslims are doing poorly in health or literacy. It is the politics of narrative of a certain kind.

Home Minister Amit (Anilchandra) Shah has said no Indian Muslim will be harassed because of the CAB and that it is not even .001 per cent against minorities.

Muslims are completely voiceless in India today, especially after the Ayodhya verdict. Let us face it.

Muslims just want to live and let live now. They are in a position today where they don't want to create further problems for themselves. They have lost their voices.

You can see the rise of Hindu militant nationalism. You can see it everywhere.

Syed Firdaus Ashraf covers national politics, and occasionally movies too for Rediff.com. He can be contacted at firdausa@rediff.co.in

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