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Other Articles of the Series
PART I Assam, changed forever
PART II The Simple Safty of numbers
PART III The Illegal Migrant
PART VI Vote banks pay dividends
The Bangla Conundrum

Vote banks pay dividends

For 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

By Nitin A. Gokhale

Northeast on the Boil
Minority Card: Tarun Gogoi (left) at a Muslim rally
Photo Subhamoy Bhattacharjee
At 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,
kept quiet

The 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.

The 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.

Says 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 Act.”

AASU, 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 the NRC.

With 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.

The 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.

Muslims are a key factor in elections. Even the anti-migrant AGP held a minority convention in March
Jamiat 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.

As 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.

“How 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.

“The 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 minorities.

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.


July 16, 2005

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