The Bangla Conundrum
years, Assam’s politicians invested heavily in migrants. They gave
them protection, help, food, shelter. This is the time for returns. As
elections near, political parties wait for payback time
Nitin A. Gokhale
on the Boil
Card: Tarun Gogoi (left) at a Muslim rally
Photo Subhamoy Bhattacharjee
a rally attended by Tarun Gogoi, Jamiat chief Maulana Asad Madani
threatened to pull down the Congress
government if it didn’t
fulfil its 18 demands within six months. The CM, not willing to
antagonise the Muslims,
politics of migration is expected to take centrestage in Assam with elections
to the state Assembly less than a year away. The decision of the Congress-led
upa government in November 2004 to retain the controversial Illegal Migrants
(Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983, has brought much relief to the
Tarun Gogoi government. The Act, popularly known as imdt, has been the
Congress’ Bible in Assam for two decades since it keeps the 30 percent
Muslims in the state on its side and gives the party an edge in the electoral
politics of the volatile state. The nda had introduced a Bill in Parliament
in May 2003 to scrap the Act.
Act, which has dominated the state’s political discourse since 1983,
evokes the usual reactions from the opposing ends of the political spectrum.
The Congress and the United Minorities Front (UMF) have welcomed the Centre’s
decision while the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the Opposition
Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) bitterly criticise it.
UMF President Hafiz Rashid Ahmed Choudhury: “The imdt Act is the
only piece of legislation that protects the rights of Indian minorities
in Assam. Without the Act, Indian Muslims and even the linguistic minorities
(read Bengalis) would be harassed no end in the name of detection and
deportation of foreigners. Our stand is very clear: first update the National
Register of Citizens (NRC), then issue identity cards to all Indian citizens
and then we can think of lending our support to the repeal of the imdt
which signed the much-touted Assam Accord with the Centre in 1985 is firm
on its demand for repeal of the Act but at the moment seems satisfied
with New Delhi’s assurance (given by the prime minister himself
on May 5 this year) that the NRC would be updated with 1971 as the cutoff
year. The NRC was last updated in 1951. The UMF and AASU, normally at
loggerheads over the influx issue, seem to agree on the need to update
less than a year to go for the Assembly elections, however, organisations
like the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind have started flexing muscles. At a huge public
rally in Guwahati, the state capital, on April 3, attended by Chief Minister
Tarun Gogoi, Jamiat President Maulana Asad Madani threatened to pull down
the Congress government if it failed to fulfil its 18-point charter of
demands within six months. The chief minister, not willing to antagonise
the Muslims whose support the Congress enjoys, kept quiet.
Jamiat’s demands include granting of land deeds to Muslim settlers
in the riverine areas and citizenship certificates to the minorities.
The bjp has warned the government that if it were to concede to the demands,
“There will be a mini Bangladesh in every district in the state.”
Privately, Congress leaders admit that the Jamiat is indulging in blackmail
as it always does on the eve of elections.
or no Jamiat, the fact remains that Muslims are a key factor in the state’s
electoral politics. Therefore, even the AGP, which had earlier collaborated
with the bjp in the state elections, held a religious minority convention
in Guwahati in March 2005. The conclave had decided to form a minority
cell to work for the socio-economic uplift of the “comparatively
backward religious minorities” in the state.
are a key factor in elections. Even the anti-migrant AGP held a
minority convention in March
elections draw near, the cacophony over infiltration is bound to get shriller.
Chief Minister Gogoi and UMF chief Choudhury say the issue of Bangladeshi
influx always comes up during elections.
come, none is bothered about infiltration at other times? The Opposition
raises the issue only when it suits them politically,” Gogoi says.
Choudhury, however, accuses all the three main political parties —
the Congress, the bjp and the AGP — of whipping up anti-Muslim sentiments
as elections approach.
Dibrugarh episode was the handiwork of the ruling party. The Congress
works up a fear psychosis on the eve of elections among the Muslims and
then pretends it is the only party that can protect them,” Choudhury
says. The UMF, he says, is genuinely interested in development of the
allegations and counter-allegations apart, political parties in the state
have started wooing the migrants. Some may do it openly, some covertly.
The truth is that the race for the Muslim vote in Assam has only begun.