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Veneer of Bonhomie: India’s fight against Bengali migrants

India

Opinion |

Foreground

Before embarking on three-day (October 3-6, 2019) visit to India, Bangladeshi prime minister ordered removal, at native expense, of India-East –Pakistan border pillars, bearing engraved name of Pakistan. After the partition of India-Pakistan in 1947, more than 8,000 pillars were installed in the bordering areas including Satkhira, Jashore, Chuadanga, and Kushtia. Earlier, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister had presented a portrait of surrendering Pakistan troops of 1971 War to visiting Modi. Add to it execution of elderly pro-Pakistan politicians. These puerile gestures were aimed at pleasing Indian prime minister.

Violation of Tripartite-accord Spirit

Bangladesh had welcomed the Simla Agreement when it was signed. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh strongly supported its objective of reconciliation, good neighborliness and establishment of durable peace in the subcontinent. The tripartite agreement states that signatories (India, Bangladesh and Pakistan) “are resolved to continue their efforts to reduce tension, promote friendly and harmonious relationship in the sub-continent and work together towards the establishment of a durable peace.”

Yet, after coming to power in 2009, Sheikh Hasina Wajid set up the International Crimes Tribunal to look into ‘war crimes’ committed during the events of 1971 that led to the creation of Bangladesh. Several opposition leaders belonging to the Bangladeshi chapter of Jamaat-i-Islami were executed by the tribunal, even though a number of reputed human rights groups and experts cast doubt over the fairness of the trials.

All Bengali armed forces officers who were repatriated from Pakistan were sacked. And air force officers were gunned down in their quarters. The unfortunate officers had earned the sobriquet of ‘Pakistani-trained officers’.

The BJP leaders quote from Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s book to say that Mujib, as an East Pakistani national, wanted to annex Assam into East Pakistan (Bangladesh).

A million Biharis live in ghettoes and shacks. Segregated and marginalized, Jim Crow law is enforced on them. There are a million rickshaw pullers, mostly Bihari Muslims, caricaturing constitutional equality and freedom. They die young in droves owing to tuberculosis.

Real Issues

However, it remains to be seen how Bangladesh will cope with burden of 1, 906, 657 Bangladeshis, about to be flushed back into the country. India’s home minister has called them `termites’ to Indian economy. Already, Bangladesh is groaning under burden of a million Rohingya refugees. Then there are the thorny water issues of Teesta River and Bay of Bengal Continental Shelf. West Bengal Chief Minister had declared not to part with “even a drop of the Teesta river water” as it would harm the interest of West Bengal (National Herald India dated October 3, 2019).

Incendiary Anti-Bengali Statements

Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Telangana T. Raja Singh Lodh demanded `Illegal Bangladeshi settlers and Rohingya should be shot if they do not return to their countries like gentlemen’. He made the statement in the context of the Supreme Court-monitored exercise to identify genuine Indian nationals living in Assam. A legislator from Goshamahal in Hyderabad, in similar vein, roared in a video message on a social networking site: “If these people, illegal Bangladeshis and Rohingya, don’t go back with ‘sharafat’ (like gentlemen) then there is a need to talk to them in their own language. They should be shot. Only then India will be safe. Such illegal settlers were “shot and driven out” from some other countries’.

YS Chowdary of the Telugu Desam Party Said illegal immigrants from Bangladesh had settled in Assam as part of a “conspiracy to destroy India”. It is the responsibility of the government to send them back to Bangladesh, he added.

Transition from ‘Long Live Bangladesh’ (joi bangla, long live BD) to ‘drive out Bengalis’ (bongla kheda)

India’s insincerity to Bangladesh now stands unmasked. According to its national register of citizenship, India now dubs Bengali refugees or settlers who came after 1951 as ‘infiltrators’. The register establishes genealogical family trees going back till 1951. The forbears of some Assamese Muslims go back 500-700 years, but they have no document to prove their nationality. India is all set to drive `infiltrators’ out. An irony of fate-Most of the settlers was sheltered during 1971 war as precious raw material for Mukti Bahini (freedom fighters).

Read more: Muslims are hissing Yavana snakes & traitors: RSS founders

Demand for expelling all Bangladeshis from various Indian states is gaining momentum. Some critics think the onslaught against Bangladeshi Muslims in India is part of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) frenzy to harass Muslim community.

A bitter lesson of history is that India’s initial objective was not to convert the whole of East Pakistan into Bangladesh. ‘India aimed at nothing higher than capturing sizable chunk of territory to establish Bangladesh government from Calcutta and transfer the bulk of her refugee burden to the liberated area’. But, a distraught `tiger Niazi’ signed surrender document, instead of a ceasefire agreement. Pursuant to fall of Dacca, the victorious Indians were least bothered about protecting innocent civilians. The Indians were busy removing the plunder of their victory to India.

Large convoys of trains and trucks moved military hardware, foodstuffs, industrial produce and household goods including refrigerators, carpets and television sets’…The khaki of the Pakistani soldiers had been replaced by the green uniform of the Indian army. The Bengalis …were flabbergasted at a change which may well augur a new and worse era of domination. Had they merely changed yokes? (Siddiq Salik, Witness to Surrender, p.212).

The aim is to force them to vote for BJP, instead of Congress, dubbed as the ‘Pakistan party’.

ISI Linked to Bangladeshis in Assam

Both houses of Indian parliament, House of states (Rrajya Sabha) and House of People (Lok Sabha) have witnessed rumpus on question of pushing back 4.7 million Bangladeshi Muslims back to Bangladesh. But, the Bangladesh government has clarified that it won’t take back the returnees as they are `Indian nationals’.

Bangladesh is tight-rope balancing China and India. Many cabinet ministers think that Bangladesh’s future lies with stronger rapport with China.

The fate of Bengali Muslims, settled in Assam, since times immemorial, thus hangs in balance. Many politicians, including former officers of India’s premier intelligence agency, Research and Intelligence Wing (RAW) have claimed that it was ISI’s conspiracy to push Bangladeshi Muslims into various Indian states as moles. A retired RAW officer (Sriprakash Jaiswal), made startling revelations in his public statement. He claimed `there were around 12 million such people living in 17 states and union territories as on December 31 2001’. He added, `Assam accounted for 50 lakh and West Bengal 57 lakh Bangladeshi immigrants living illegally’.

Aside from Jaswal’s recent statement, the BJP government had informed the Rajya Sabha in 2006 that `as per the available information there are 20 million such persons living illegally in India’. The BJP leaders quote from Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s book to say that Mujib, as an East Pakistani national, wanted to annex Assam into East Pakistan (Bangladesh). Mujeeb in his book, Eastern Pakistan: Its Population and Economics, wrote, “Because Eastern Pakistan must have sufficient land for its expansion and because Assam has abundant forests and mineral resources, coal, petroleum etc., Eastern Pakistan must include Assam to be financially and economically strong”.

Demand for expelling all Bangladeshis from various Indian states is gaining momentum. Some critics think the onslaught against Bangladeshi Muslims in India is part of Hindutva frenzy to harass Muslim community. The aim is to force them to vote for BJP.

Veneer of Bonhomie

While addressing India Today’s East conclave (October 7, 2018), several speakers highlighted plight of Bangladeshis in Assam. India never discussed its ‘detect, delete and deport’ process, with BD. To add insult to injury, Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah, Home minister and heir-apparent to Narendra Modi, declared ‘the infiltrators [Bangladeshis] have eaten the country like termites’. Every one of them will be removed from electoral rolls’, and sent back (September 22, 2018). Some loud mouths called for `illegal immigrants to be shot’, if they refuse to return.

India’s Hypocrisy Unmasked

While disenfranchising Bangladeshis, India would grant citizenship to ‘persecuted Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to India’. The citizenship criterion violates provisions of Article 14 of the Indian constitution. The article guarantees equality before the law and prohibits ‘discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth’.

Read more: “Heroes” of 1971: Bloodthirsty Video Game Killing Pakistani Soldiers Goes Viral in Bangladesh

In their public speeches, BJP leaders, including home minister Amit Shah has promised to carry out Assam like NRC exercise in every nook and corner of India.

Fate of Settlers in Tripura

The anti-Bengali sentiment in Assam is fast engulfing other Indian states. Just three months after the final draft of the National Register of Citizens for Assam was released, India’s Supreme Court tagged a petition seeking a similar process for Tripura. The bench headed by the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, passed this order on a petition a group of activists from Tripura. They sought a process to identify illegal migrants and deport them from the State. They pleaded that the influx amounted to “external aggression” and has turned the tribal people into a minority in their own native land.

Much of the migration into Tripura had occurred well before the creation of Bangladesh. The petition takes recourse to the 1993 tripartite accord signed by the Government of India with the All Tripura Tribal Force that asked for the repatriation of all Bangladeshi nationals who had come to Tripura after March 25, 1971 and are not in possession of valid documents authorizing their presence in the State.

In fact, the petitioners sought relief even further than the terms of the accord. They demanded that the cut-off date for the recognition of migrants should be July 1949, based on Article 6 of the Constitution. These demands must be contextualized in the light of the developments in Tripura over the last four decades. As early as in 1979, after years of struggle, the tribal people of the State had gained special autonomy provisions, the institution of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council and recognition of their spoken language, among other assurances.

To Deport Bangladeshis or Keep them in Detention

The NRC process in Assam has overwhelming support across most political parties. There is no consensus as to how the deportation process should proceed. Such a bureaucratic exercise has deep humanitarian implications. It would create new fault lines, especially in a State like Tripura where there is no such unanimity of views on the NRC process. It will play havoc with reconciliation between Bengali-speaking and tribal people.

Read more: Bangladesh suspends mobile services in Rohingya camps

China Card

Bangladesh is tight-rope balancing China and India. Many cabinet ministers think that Bangladesh’s future lies with stronger rapport with China. During her visit to China, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister discussed a broad spectrum of issues and signed several memorandum of understanding. They cover the power sector, riverine matters including Brahmaputra river, commercial loans and formation of various working groups. Bangladesh has also accepted the Belt and Road Initiative.

Inference

Pakistan should explore opportunity to woo recalcitrant Bangladesh in view of emerging shift in India-Bangladesh relations. Bangladesh’s efforts in economic growth coupled with population control are laudable. At present, Bangladesh’s income per capita per annum exceeds Pakistan’s. Several factors contributed to BD’s economic progress; absence of terrorism or insurgency, consistent industrialization policies for industrialists and investors alike, availability of a flexible, educated, skilled, low-priced workforce, a low defense budget, better in-built accountability measures, and so forth. Bangladesh will make a valuable regional ally for Pakistan.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law and his articles have been published in the leading dailies and magazines at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is the author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy. 

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